Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Israel has increased settlement building in East Jerusalem in Trump's presidency

Authorities approved a 60 per cent increase in housing units, new data shows, including the highest number for a year since 2000

Israel’s hard-right government significantly escalated its settlement construction in occupied East Jerusalem in the two years since US President Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, new data shows, a development that further erodes hope for Palestinian statehood.

Figures published by Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now on Thursday revealed that in 2017 Israel issued 1,081 construction permits in the occupied territory, the highest number since 2000.

In the first two years of the Trump presidency, Israeli authorities signed off on 1,861 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem settlements, a 60 per cent increase from the 1,162 approved in the previous two years.

News of the expansion is the latest in a series of developments that allude to a changing reality on the ground, backed by the United States, in favour of Israel and against the statehood hopes of Palestinians. The international community, and UN chief Antonio Guterres, criticised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday for announcing that he will annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank if he won Israel’s September 17 repeat election.

On Thursday, as he campaigned before the vote, the Israeli premier ramped up his rhetoric on Gaza, where Israel has fought three wars with Hamas since 2008. He said continued rocket fire from the enclave meant that another war was inevitable, hinting that advanced plans were under way to prepare for such an offensive.

This Monday, Sept. 9, 2019 photo, shows a view of the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan. AP
This Monday, Sept. 9, 2019 photo, shows a view of the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan. AP

But for all of his election bluster, the new data reflects what the Palestinians view to be quiet changes that Israel is implementing in the territories that it captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War with tacit approval from the White House.

As concerning for the Palestinians is that Israeli authorities are preventing their ability to construct in occupied East Jerusalem, a move they say allows Israel to justify widely criticised demolitions of Palestinian homes. Palestinians say the expense and difficulty of obtaining permits forces them to build illegally. Peace Now estimates that of the 40,000 housing units in Palestinian neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, half have been built without permits.

Peace Now said the numbers show that while Palestinians make up more than 60 per cent of the population in occupied east Jerusalem, they have received only 30 per cent of the building permits issued since 1991. The figures show that since 1991, the municipality has issued 21,834 permits for housing units in Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem and just 9,536 for Palestinian neighbourhoods.

The fate of the city, which is home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, is at the heart of the decades-old conflict. The Palestinians want occupied East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state, while Israel views the entire city as its unified capital.

More than 200,000 Jewish settlers live in occupied East Jerusalem, in areas that Israel says it would retain under any peace deal.

Tensions have soared since Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 2017 and moved the US embassy there, breaking with a longstanding international consensus that the city's fate should be decided in bilateral negotiations.

Trump has argued that his recognition does not preclude a final settlement. But the Palestinians and rights groups say his unbridled support for Israel's nationalist government has given it a free pass to tighten its grip on war-won lands sought by the Palestinians.

Updated: September 13, 2019 12:18 PM

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