Israel okays first new settlement in decades to replace Amona
Top ministers unanimously approve settlement near Shiloh for evacuees from razed outpost; White House indicates move was outside purview of talks on limiting West Bank construction, but expects building to be reined in
New prefabricated homes are seen under construction in the West Bank between the Israeli outpost of Amona and the settlement of Ofra (background), north of Ramallah, on January 31, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)
Senior lawmakers voted unanimously Thursday to establish a new West Bank settlement for families evicted from the razed Amona outpost, the first new Jewish town in the territory since the 1993 Oslo Accords, amid intense negotiations with the US over settlement building.
The new community will be located near the settlements of Shiloh and Eli, north of Ramallah, according to the Prime Minister’s Office. The PMO also announced the approval of tenders for some 2,000 new settlement homes — housing units whose planned construction was first announced in January.
The security cabinet, which voted for the Amona replacement, was also informed that some 900 dunams (about 222 acres) of territory in the West Bank would be registered as state land.
The approval of the new Amona settlement, which still must be okayed by the full cabinet, comes after months of uncertainty over whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be able to keep his promise to replace the outpost, razed last month after the High Court of Justice ruled it had been built illegally on private Palestinian land.
A White House official said after the announcement that talks between Jerusalem and the US on limiting settlement construction were ongoing, and hinted that Israel had agreed to some sort of slowdown that takes US President Donald Trump’s “concerns into consideration.”
The official indicated the Amona decision may have remained outside those discussions.
“With regards to the new settlement for Amona residents, we would note that the Israeli prime minister made a commitment to the Amona settlers prior to President Trump laying out his expectations, and has consistently indicated that he intended to move forward with this plan,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The settlement would be the first new legal one in some 25 years. While Israel stopped establishing new settlements in the early 1990s, outposts set up since then have been given retroactive approval, and existing settlements have expanded their footprints, sometimes being neighborhoods of existing settlements in name only.
Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed to fulfill his promise to establish the new West Bank location for Amona evacuees, including earlier Thursday ahead of the vote.
Former Amona residents welcomed the decision, saying they expected the government to immediately implement it, “so that by the upcoming summer we will enter the homes” built in the new community.
The residents thanked the cabinet members and Netanyahu “who in the face of the pressure, fulfilled his commitment to establish a new community in Judea and Samaria.”President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, February 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Channel 2 reported Thursday that Netanyahu had made clear to the Trump administration that this promise to establish the new community was personal and that he intended to see it through.
Trump had asked Netanyahu at a joint press conference last month for Israel to “hold back” on West Bank settlement construction. Several efforts since then to formulate a coordinated Israeli-US position on settlements have not yielded an agreement.
The White House official said the administration expected Israel to heed Trump, saying that while it did not view settlements as an obstacle to peace, “further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace.”
“Going forward and as we move into more detailed discussions regarding the possibilities for advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Israeli government has made clear that Israel’s intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes President Trump’s concerns into consideration,” the official said.
Netanyahu was expected to update ministers during the security cabinet meeting on ongoing talks with the White House about limiting settlement building.
He also told minister that that some 2,000 housing units of just over 6,000 announced in January and February in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were approved.
On Thursday, the Israel Land Authority issued tenders for 1,992 units: 698 for Alfei Menashe, 630 in Beit Arye, 612 in Beitar Illit and 54 for Karnei Shomron.
Since Trump’s inauguration in January, Israel has okayed over 6,000 housing units in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank, some of them outside settlement blocs Israel hopes to keep in a future peace deal with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu also informed ministers that some 900 dunams in the West Bank had been claimed as state land.
The land in question includes an area near the West Bank settlement of Eli, land near the outpost of Givat Haroeh, once slated for demolition, and the unauthorized outpost of Adei Ad.
The land would likely be used for settlement construction.