Jewish settlers clashed Wednesday with Israeli security forces that moved in to evacuate the illegal outpost of Amona in the West Bank. Dozens of settlers threw stones, burned tires and set up barricades to hinder the advance of 3,000 police and soldiers.
“The situation today is unbelievable and illogical,” said settlement leader Yossi Dagan. “It is unthinkable that a nationalist Israeli government would uproot” a Jewish community in the historical Land of Israel.
Amona is the largest of approximately 100 outposts in the West Bank that are tolerated by the government, but not officially authorized. The community was built in the 1990s on a rugged hilltop and is home to about 330 people, including 50 families.
In 2014, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled the outpost was built illegally on Palestinian-owned land and must be dismantled. Facing a February 8 deadline, the right-wing government, which is a strong supporter of the settlement enterprise, reluctantly ordered the evacuation.
To ease the blow, the government announced plans to build 3,000 new housing units in other Jewish settlements, on land claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.
“From the ruins of the houses of Amona we will build a new settlement, and from its abandoned courtyards we will establish kindergartens in all of Judea and Samaria,” said Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the hawkish Jewish Home party, referring to the biblical name of the West Bank. “And from the painful loss of this hilltop we will begin to establish Israeli sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria.”
He said the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, will pass a new law next week legalizing dozens of unauthorized West Bank outposts.
The settlement expansion comes in sharp contrast to the curbs Israel imposed during the two terms of former U.S. President Barack Obama, who saw the settlements as an obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. But Israeli officials believe the new administration of President Donald Trump is more sympathetic.
Since Trump took office January 20, Israel has announced plans to build more than 6,000 homes in West Bank settlements. And in sharp contrast to the Obama administration, there has been no condemnation from the White House.
Observers here widely assume Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not have moved ahead on such controversial construction without a tacit green light from Trump. The two leaders spoke on the phone two days after Trump was inaugurated and they are due to meet February 15 at the White House.
Nevertheless, most of the international community remains strongly opposed to the settlements, which are seen as illegal under international law.“We are concerned over recent announcements by the Israeli government to advance [more than] 5,000 settlement units in the occupied West Bank,” said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. “We once again warn against any unilateral actions that can be an obstacle to a negotiated two-state solution and call on both parties to return to meaningful negotiations on the basis of relevant Security Council resolutions and in accordance with international law.”
Israel had curbed construction under pressure from former U.S. President Barack Obama, who saw the settlements as an obstacle to peace; but, Israeli officials believe new U.S. President Donald Trump is more sympathetic, and they have announced plans to build thousands of homes in the West Bank since he took office on January 20th.
Palestinian officials say the settlement expansion means an end to the peace process and hopes for a two-state solution
The Palestinian Authority that rules parts of the West Bank demanded action.
“It is clear that ... Netanyahu is creating facts on the ground and destroying the very foundations of the two-state solution and the chances for peace,” said Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi. “We cannot afford four more years as Israel rushes to complete the unjust and illegal transformation and ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem and the final annexation of the occupied West Bank. We call on all global leaders to intervene immediately and include punitive measures and sanctions [on Israel] before it is too late.”
While Netanyahu says he supports the two-state solution, critics say building in the settlements is proof that this is little more than lip service. Many influential members of his coalition believe Jews have a biblical right to settle anywhere in the Holy Land, and Netanyahu himself has warned that he will not allow a Palestinian “terror state” to be established in Israel’s backyard.