JERUSALEM, Israel – A day after the inauguration of Donald J. Trump and within hours of Mr Trump speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Jerusalem Municipality approved the building of several hundred settlement homes on land it occupies in East Jerusalem, and announced it will likely approve several thousand more in and around East Jerusalem later this week.
The move will fortify Israel’s claim on a united Jerusalem for its own as its capital. The shrinking of Palestinian land as a result of its confiscation to make way for settlements has been deemed illegal by the international community, including the United States for decades. However a change of administration in Washington on Friday has emboldened Israeli leaders who have been feverishly planning an entirely new era for Israel under the patronage of the Trump administration.
“I was told to wait until Trump takes office because he has no problem with building in Jerusalem,” the Chairman of the municipality’s Planning and Building committee, Meir Turgeman, told Israel Radio on Sunday.
The Jerusalem mayor, who heads the municipality signalled an end to any reluctance to expand settlements in light of the change of administration in the United States. Aside from Sunday’s immediate approval of 566 homes, the municipality’s District Zoning Committee will meet on Wednesday to consider approval of an additional 5,600 housing units in Gilo, Ramot and Givat Hamatos. In all, an additional 11,000 homes are earmarked for approval before the end of the year, the Jerusalem mayor said Sunday. As almost all the homes will be occupied by families, this will mean a swelling of the Israeli population in East Jersualem by an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 settlers.
Sunday’s announcement comes a month after the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements and calling for their construction to be halted. That was not seen as an obstacle Sunday but rather the passing of power from the Obama administration to the Trump administration appeared to pave the way for a renewed expansion of settlements.
“We went through eight difficult years of Obama’s pressure to freeze construction, and often delayed marketing apartments because of pressure from the U.S.,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (pictured) said Sunday. “We will continue to build and develop the city for all residents, Jews and Arabs alike, to strengthen its sovereignty over a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and to provide solutions for young couples. It is the right thing to do.”
Israel has been basking in the election of Mr Trump with optimism for the Jewish state’s prospects reaching sky-high levels. The new president and his team have warmly embraced the euphoria with one Trump adviser on the weekend signalling an eventual Israeli takeover of the West Bank.
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan met with Trump adviser George Papadopoulos after the inauguration and soon after Mr. Papadopoulos, in referring to the West Bank, used the Israeli term Judea and Samaria instead.
“We had an excellent meeting with Yossi and we hope that the people of Judea and Samaria will have a great 2017,” Mr Papadopoulos said after his meeting with Dagan. “We are looking forward to ushering in a new relationship with all of Israel, including the historic Judea and Samaria,” he added.
Dagan’s spokeswoman, Esther Alush, said another U.S. politician his boss had met with after the inauguration had told him that soon, “we won’t have to call the settlements, ‘settlements.'”
Adding fuel to the fire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clarified what he terms as a ‘state’ for the Palestinians when it is said he supports a two-state solution.
Speaking prior to Sunday’s cabinet meeting, he said while others were opposed to the two-states, they were not in disagreement with him. Clarifying he said what he means for the Palestinians to have is not a state in the full sense, but rather a “state-minus.”
Mr Netanyahu in the past has said any Palestinian state would not have full sovereignty, and that it must be “demilitarized.”
The prime minister earlier spoke by phone with Mr Trump, who he said invited him to Washington next month for a meeting. He said he told the new president he wanted to work with him, “to forge a common vision to advance peace and security in the region, with no daylight between the United States and Israel.”
Prior to the phone call the White House confirmed it had begun discussions on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
When asked whether there was any progress on the move, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “We are only at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject.”
The announcement was greeted jublilantly in Jersusalem.
“I congratulate President Trump on the White House’s historic announcement that discussions have begun on moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Mayor Barkat said in a statement released on Sunday.
“Trump is showing that he is a true friend of the state of Israel who fulfills his promises,” he said. “The announcement this evening sends a clear message to the entire world that the U.S. recognizes Israel as the united capital of the state of Israel.”
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