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Israel plans first new West Bank settlement in almost 20 years

Israel plans new West Bank settlement for first time in almost 20 years

Amid chaotic scenes, Israeli authorities forcibly removed hundreds of right-wing demonstrators and residents from an illegal settler outpost in the occupied West Bank Wednesday. But the clearance was overshadowed by the announcement of plans for Israel’s first new West Bank settlement in nearly two decades, as the country ramps up its settlement program in defiance of international opinion.

Tensions flared at the court-ordered clearance of Amona, the unauthorized hilltop outpost near Ramallah that is home to a few hundred settlers. Activists who had gathered to resist the evacuation of residents burned tires and threw stones at police, and were dragged into buses by security forces, according to reports.

Police said at least thirteen protesters were arrested, while 24 police and 18 civilians were injured during the evacuation, which had been by Israel’s Supreme Court because it was built illegally on privately-owned Palestinian land.

But the clearance of Amona was an anomaly amid a broader acceleration of Israel’s settlement-building program – considered illegal under international law – since U.S. President Donald Trump took office.

On Wednesday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans for the establishment of the first entirely new settlement – rather than the expansion of an existing settlement – in the West Bank since 1999. This followed earlier announcements in recent days of plans to build 5,500 housing units in the West Bank, and 550 new homes in East Jerusalem.

The settlement program had frozen under pressure from previous U.S. President Barack Obama, a vocal critic of the policy. The program – described in a U.N. Security Council resolution as “a flagrant violation under international law” – are widely as an obstacle to any potential “two-state” peace deal, as they take up land Palestinians would need for an independent state based in the West Bank and Gaza, with a capital in East Jerusalem.

But the arrival in the White House of Trump, who has pledged his strong support to Israel, appears to have emboldened the country’s right-wing coalition government to expand its settlement program.

“We are in a new era, where life in Judea and Samaria goes back to its normal and proper course,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who lives in a settlement himself, said in a statement, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the plans for further expansion in the West Bank, saying through a spokesman that the moves jeopardized any hopes of peace.

“We call on the U.S. administration to rein in this Israeli government’s policy, which is going to destroy the peace process,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh said.

More than 600,000 Israelis live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There are also about 100 settler outposts in the West Bank like Amona, built without official permission from the Israeli government.

Trump and Netanyahu are scheduled to discuss the settlement program when they meet in Washington on Feb. 15.

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