The Israeli government on Thursday rejected a request made by U.S. President Donald Trump last month to hold back on settlement activity in the occupied West Bank with the announcement of plans to establish the first new settlement to be legally created under Israeli law at the start of construction in nearly 20 years.
All settlement activity is considered illegal under international law.
Trump requested that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold off on settlement building during a meeting with the leader in February, however it was not immediately clear if the U.S. President had a change of heart and gave Netanyahu the go-ahead for the new announcement, or if the Israeli government simply decided to move against the wishes of its strongest ally.
On Thursday, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth Tweeted that Netanyahu was essentially “daring” the International Criminal Court to “come and get him” after the announcement.
The new settlement, which will be established on land in the heart of the occupied West Bank, referred to by Israel as “Emek Shilo” near the illegal Israeli settlement of Shilo, will be created as a replacement community for the illegal Israeli settlement outpost of Amona. Amona was dismantled earlier this year after an Israeli High Court ordered so, due to the fact that the outpost was illegal under both international and Israeli law, and had been established on private Palestinian land.
Before the settlers of Amona were evacuated and the settlement dismantled, Netanyahu had assured the community he would relocate the 40 settler families.
“I promised at the outset that we would build a new community,” Mr. Netanyahu said on Thursday, explaining the newest settlement announcement. “I believe that I first gave that promise back in December, and we will uphold it today.”
However, while the illegal settlement of Amona was an outpost housing 40 families, the new settlement Netanyahu claims is a replacement is starting out with plans to build 2,000 new units, according to a press release from the office of PLO Legislative Council member Hanan Ashrawi.
In a statement released on Saturday, Ashrawi pointed out the irony of the Israeli government’s announcement taking place on Land Day, a Palestinian commemoration of Israel’s 1976 land grab, during which 20,000 dunams (5,000 acres) of land was confiscated, six Palestinians were killed and hundreds more injured.
“Forty-one years later, Israel’s policies remain unchanged as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his extremist, racist coalition government continue to persist with their systematic policies of settler colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing, showing a total and blatant disregard for Palestinian human rights, independence and dignity,” Ashrawi said. “Today’s announcement once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace.”
Ashrawi called on the international community to step in with “punitive measures” against the Israeli state in order to hold the country accountable to international law.
“Israel’s relentless efforts to expand its illegal settlement enterprise with the aim of displacing Palestine and replacing it with ‘Greater Israel’ should send a strong message to governments worldwide that they need to intervene immediately and to undertake concrete measures to hold Israel accountable with serious punitive measures,” she said. “We also call on UN Secretary-General António Guterres to ensure compliance with Security Council resolutions, including UNSC resolution 2334, and to make certain that Israel respects them.”
On Friday, the Spokesman for the UN Secretary-General released a statement condemning the new settlement announcement, stressing that “settlement activities are illegal under international law and present an obstacle to peace,” but made hints towards any real actions against the Israeli state.
“The Secretary-General took notice with disappointment and alarm of the decision by Israel to build a new settlement in the occupied Palestinian territory,” the spokesperson said. “The Secretary-General has consistently stressed that there is no Plan B for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace and security. He condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-state solution.”
Israeli rights group B’Tselem said on Friday also condemned the move.
“On the ground, the West Bank has already been fragmented by Israeli settlement expansion,” the press release stated. “The meaning of the policy presented is that the state will go on building as it pleases, whether in or outside of settlement boundaries, in complete disregard of UNSCR 2334 on the illegality of the entire settlement enterprise. This policy is no show of goodwill, but instead unbridled theft masquerading as ‘restrained construction.’”
On Feb. 6, not long after Amona was dismantled, new controversial legislation, dubbed the Regularization Law, was passed in the Israeli Knesset. The law retroactively legalized at least a dozen settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land, and laid the framework for easily legalizing other outposts in the future.
The legislation is just one of a string of controversial moves taken by the Israeli government in the occupied West Bank this year, including a new bill introduced to the Knesset in March, which aims to annex the illegal Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, which stretches deep into the occupied West Bank. The annexation would essentially split the West Bank in two between the north and south. Israel is also on track to set a record breaking year in Palestinian home demolitions for 2017.
In the last twenty years, the Israeli settler population in the occupied West Bank has nearly tripled, despite international criticism.
Settlement activity is seen internationally and among Palestinians as one of the most major obstacles in the establishment of the two-state solution.