Saturday 21 April 2018

Israel delays explosive new plans to annex large West Bank settlement

Caution: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Ronen Zvulun, pool via AP
Caution: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Ronen Zvulun, pool via AP

Josef Federman Jerusalam

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night delayed a vote on an explosive proposal to annex one of the West Bank's largest settlements.

The move put on hold legislation that threatens to unleash fresh violence and damage faded hopes for Palestinian independence.

Mr Netanyahu is waiting to meet new US President Donald Trump next month before allowing the controversial plan.

After eight years of frosty relations with president Barack Obama, Mr Netanyahu has welcomed Mr Trump's election as an opportunity to strengthen ties between the nations.

The two men spoke on the phone yesterday.

Also yesterday, Jerusalem city officials granted building permits for 566 new homes in east Jerusalem. The permits had been put on hold for the final months of the Obama administration.

"We've been through eight tough years with Obama pressuring to freeze construction," said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. "I hope that era is over and now we can build and develop Jerusalem for the welfare of its residents, Jews and Arabs alike."

With Mr Trump signalling a more tolerant approach toward the much-maligned settlement movement, Israel's nationalist right now believes it has an ally in the White House, and Israeli hard-line leaders make no secret they will push for aggressive action in the occupied West Bank.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home Party, has been pushing Netanyahu to abandon the internationally backed idea of a Palestinian state and to annex the Maaleh Adumim settlement.

But after convening his Security Cabinet yesterday, Mr Netanyahu said his Cabinet ministers, including Mr Bennett, had decided "unanimously" to delay action until he goes to Washington.

Mr Netanyahu, a long-time supporter of the settlements, has nonetheless been cautious about expanding them in the face of strong opposition from the international community.

In a final showdown with Israel last month, the Obama administration allowed the UN Security Council to pass a resolution condemning settlements as illegal.

But Mr Bennett and other hard-liners believe there is no longer any reason for restraint.

Irish Independent

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