Israel Approves First New West Bank Settlement in Over 20 Years for Amona Evacuees

White House official tells Haaretz that Netanyahu decided to build the new settlement before Trump laid out his concerns about settlements, adds that Israel will take Trump's concerns into consideration from now on.

Police forces at the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona, February 1, 2017.
Police forces at the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona, February 1, 2017. Olivier Fitoussi

The security cabinet unanimously approved establishing a new settlement Thursday night to house settlers evacuated from the illegal outpost of Amona. This is the first time in over 20 years that Israel has established a new West Bank settlement.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that following the vote in the security cabinet, a telephone poll of all ministers who aren’t part of that body will be conducted to give the decision final approval.

The decision to establish the new settlement, which will be located near the existing settlement of Shiloh, stems from a promise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made to Amona residents several months ago. Though the Trump administration objects to establishing any new settlements, Netanyahu told the White House in advance that he intended to keep his promise, saying that politically speaking, it was impossible for him to renege on it.

At the security cabinet meeting, Netanyahu told the ministers that final approval has also been granted to market enough land for the construction of 2,000 homes in existing settlements. The Prime Minister’s Office said these were the same homes whose planned construction Israel had announced two months ago, but the marketing of the land had been held up by technical problems at the Housing Ministry. 

Netanyahu also told the ministers that some 900 dunams of land near the settlement of Eli, including the outposts of Adei Ad and Givat Haro’eh, have been declared state land. This declaration will enable housing to be built on this land in the future.

Both approval of the new settlement and Netanyahu’s announcement of the other measures appear to be an effort to lay the groundwork for an impending decision to significantly restrain settlement construction in response to pressure from the Trump Administration.

A senior White House official told Haaretz that Netanyahu had committed to the creation of a new settlement and decided to market 2,000 homes in the settlements before President Trump directly expressed his concerns regarding further construction in the West Bank or his expectations of Israel on the issue.

According to the official, Netanyahu told the American government that he intends to stand by his committment to build a new settlement for the evacuees of Amona. However, the official said that Netanyahu was also planning to adopt a new policy on the settlements from here on out that would take Trump's concerns into account.

"President Trump has publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements," said the official. "As the Administration has made clear: while the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace. The Israeli government has made clear that going forward, its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the President's concerns into consideration. The United States welcomes this.

“We will continue to work with Israelis and Palestinians, and other players in the region, to create a climate that is conducive to peace. We hope that the parties will take reasonable actions moving forward that create a climate that is conducive to peace.”

Netanyahu also briefed the security cabinet on his talks with the administration over this issue. 

A senior Israeli official said this was the first time the ministers had been briefed on the progress of negotiations with the White House over settlement construction since they began three weeks ago.

Throughout those three weeks, Netanyahu kept most of the ministers out of the loop about the content of the talks, which were conducted by his closest advisers. The only minister who was briefed was Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who had to know because the Civil Administration, which is responsible for planning and building in the settlements, is under his authority.

The senior official said that Jerusalem and Washington still have some unresolved disagreements over the proposed deal on settlement construction. The establishment of a new settlement for the evacuated Amona residents has been one of the major stumbling blocks in the talks. Netanyahu has said repeatedly in recent weeks that he remains committed to keeping his promise to build that settlement.

Last week, Netanyahu’s advisors held four days of meetings in Washington with the U.S. envoy to the peace process, Jason Greenblatt, and his staff, but did not manage to reach an agreement. Nevertheless, a joint statement issued at the end of those talks said that Israel was willing in principle to rein in settlement construction in a way that would comply with President Donald Trump’s desire to advance the peace process.

The new settlement will be constructed in the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council, according to the cabinet decision, and will take some time, given the fact that it imposes a series of tasks on several government ministries.

The decision also divers the defense minister authority to give instructions to relevant officials in the Civil Administration to begin the planning phase of construction, including the exact location of the settlement and to propose and approve layout plans. The jurisdiction of the new settlement will be decided and construction will begin on the ground only after these steps have been taken.

Until the construction of permanent structures in the new settlement, a temporary complex wll be placed at the site. The decision also charges the finance minister to give a budget proposal for the creation of the settlement.