Israel approves 800 new homes in West Bank as Biden prepares to take office

Israeli settlement of Ramot, West Bank, Jerusalem
A general view shows the Israeli settlement of Ramot in an area of the West Bank that Israel annexed to Jerusalem, Israel, January 22, 2017. |

Over a week before a regime change in Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved plans to construct hundreds of homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Netanyahu’s announcement came in the way of a Facebook post in which he stated that 800 new apartments will be built in Judea and Samaria. 

“We are here to stay,” Netanyahu wrote, according to an English translation. “Continuing to build the land of Israel!”

The prime minister’s announcement was criticized by Knesset opposition leader Yair Lapid, who called the approval an “irresponsible step.”

“The [Joe] Biden administration has not yet taken office and the government is already leading us into an unnecessary confrontation,” Lapid tweeted. “The national interest must also be maintained during elections. A sane government does not start an unnecessary battle with a new American president.”

Israel took control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. Although the area has been controlled by Israel for over 50 years, the territory has never been annexed by Israel. Palestinians have argued that Jewish settlements in the region violate international law. 

Sovereignty over the area has long been debated in the international community with many international actors opposing Israel’s plans to annex the region. 

The Palestinian presidency condemned the new settlements in a statement released by the Palestine News Agency calling the new settlements “illegal,” a violation of international law and a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. 

Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh argued that Netanyahu is trying to make these types of decisions before Trump leaves office. The spokesperson asserted that all settlements are illegal and in violation of international law and UN Security Council resolutions, including Resolution 2334.

The approval to build more housing units in the West Bank on land that Palestinians have claimed to be part of a future state comes as U.S. President-elect Biden has been a critic of Jewish settlement expansion in the past.

Meanwhile, the administration of outgoing President Donald Trump had been more supportive of Jewish expansion and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the first U.S. diplomat to visit an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The Trump administration also took historic steps in its approach to Israel, as it moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. 

Throughout his long political career, Biden has positioned himself as a supporter of Israel but has also opposed Jewish development in the West Bank, leaving some to wonder how the Israel-U.S. relationship will change under the Biden administration. 

The Trump administration published a peace plan last year that the president hailed as a “deal of the century” that would have enabled Israel to annex up to 30% of the West Bank. 

However, annexation plans were suspended in exchange for the United Arab Emirates agreeing to normalize economic ties with Israel, a deal praised by Biden who claimed it only happened thanks to “efforts of multiple [U.S.] administrations.” In the last year, several Arab countries have normalized ties with Israel. 

When Biden served as vice president during the Obama administration, he butted heads with Netanyahu over settlements. In 2010, Biden spoke out against a Jewish settlement plan in East Jerusalem and accused the Israeli government of undermining the “trust” needed to pursue peace efforts.

In 2015, the State Department under the Obama administration gave U.S. taxpayer money to the OneVoice Movement to campaign against Netanyahu during the Israeli election. 

Netanyahu’s announcement on Monday comes as he looks to bolster support ahead of the upcoming March election in which he faces a challenge from one of his former supporters and cabinet secretaries, Gideon Sa’ar, a nationalist who left the Likud Party and formed his own party in December called the New Hope Party. 

As reported by the Jerusalem Post, the announcement came after Sa’ar sent Netanyahu a letter calling for the authorization.

“For more than 20 years, the Israeli government has not completed the regulation procedures for dozens of communities in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley,” Sa’ar stated. “I call on you to rise above the disputes and regulate the status of these communities once and for all.”

Israel’s desire to claim sovereignty over areas of the West Bank, which is home to millions of Palestinians and hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers, has also been criticized by the World Evangelical Alliance. 

The zionist organization International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem argued last year that “Israel already held a legitimate historic right and claim to Judea/Samaria even before it came into possession of these areas in an act of self-defense in 1967.”

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