Israel has announced it will go ahead with plans to build more than 1,200 new homes in east Jerusalem. Palestinians say the move will make a future Palestinian state impossible as it will divide between Bethlehem and east Jerusalem.
The Israeli announcement could cause tension between Israel and the administration of U.S. president-elect Joe Biden.
Israel announced bids for more than 1,200 homes in an area called Givat Hamatos, which is beyond the 1967 border. Israel says it is a neighborhood of Jerusalem, but Palestinians say it is a Jewish settlement built on land Israel occupied in 1967.
The bids are due in by January 18, just two days before President-elect Biden is due to take office. Brian Reeves of the Israeli group Peace Now which opposes settlement expansion says U.S. policy under Biden could change.
“We expect that under the Biden Administration you won’t see nearly as many settlement approvals as you saw under the Trump Administration," he said. "But understand there is a spike in settlement plan approvals and we’re going to see that construction, the beginning of that construction in the next four years.”
Under President Donald Trump, U.S. policy changed from seeing Jewish settlements as illegal to recognizing them. Trump’s peace plan even paved the way for Israel to annex up to a third of the West Bank, although that plan was shelved as part of the deal for normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
European Union officials condemned the Israeli plans, saying they would make a Palestinian state in the future much more difficult. The new construction is between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and critics say it will make it harder to make east Jerusalem the capital of a future Palestinian state.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said Israel will continue to build in Jerusalem to benefit both the Arab and Jewish residents of the city.
He said Israel will build 4,000 new housing units in Jerusalem, including the 1200 in Givat Hamatos.
Netanyahu has repeatedly said that a united Jerusalem will remain under Israeli sovereignty.
There are already almost 500,000 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank, along with more than 200,000 in east Jerusalem.
Brian Reeves of Peace Now said settlement expansion will eventually make a Palestinian state impossible.
The Israeli announcement comes days before a stop by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Israel. Israeli media reports say he will visit a Jewish settlement as well, becoming the first senior U.S. official to do so in an official capacity.