Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has announced the beginning of building work on the first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in 25 years, a day before a visit by Donald Trump’s son-in-law and envoy, Jared Kushner, aimed at reinvigorating the stalled peace process.
The new settlement, known as Amichai, is being built to house about 300 hardline residents of the illegal West Bank Jewish outpost of Amona who were evicted by police in February after a court ruled their houses were on privately owned Palestinian land.
The timing of the announcement was condemned by a Palestinian official who suggested it was designed to undermine peace efforts.
Announcing the beginning of ground-breaking work at the new settlement, Netanyahu wrote on his Twitter feed: “Work began today on-site, as I promised, to establish the new settlement,” with a photograph of a mechanical digger working at the site north of Ramallah:
The construction work comes despite a request by Trump at a meeting between the two men in Washington this year to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” – a comment seen as part of an effort to build trust with the Palestinians, but greeted by many with deep scepticism.
Netanyahu said: “After decades, I have the privilege to be the prime minister who is building a new community in Judea and Samaria [the Israeli name for the occupied Palestinian territories].”
Amichai will be the first entirely new state-approved settlement constructed in the Palestinian territories since the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, although illegal outposts have been constructed in that period and other settlements have expanded.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, called the ground-breaking “a grave escalation and an attempt to foil efforts by the American administration to revive negotiations, especially [before] the arrival of the US envoys”.
Jewish settlements in the West Bank are regarded as illegal under international law and are considered one of the main obstacles to a two-state solution, taking land claimed by Palestinians for a future state.
On Monday the White House announced that Kushner as well as Jason Greenblatt, a top US national security aide, would meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders this week.
Kushner and Greenblatt will sound out both sides “about their priorities and potential next steps” as part of Trump’s attempt to “spearhead a peace effort” that collapsed in 2014, a White House official said.
“Those who want to make it harder rather than easier to make peace, whether by their statements or their actions, must be prevented from subverting the chances for peace,” the official said.
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