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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 January 2019

Israel plans settlement that will complete encirclement of Bethlehem

The illegal outpost will be built up to the southern tip of the West Bank city

Jewish settlement of Har Homa is seen in the background as Israeli soldiers walk next to the convoy of Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the acting Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. Reuters
Jewish settlement of Har Homa is seen in the background as Israeli soldiers walk next to the convoy of Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the acting Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. Reuters

Israel is making plans to build a new settlement in the occupied West Bank that if built will leave Bethlehem completely surrounded.

Israel's hard-right government has allocated a new batch of 300 acres for the settlement neighbourhood that would expand the settlement of Efrat towards the West Bank city.

The new construction, known by critics as 'E2', would prevent the city famous for being the birthplace of Jesus from developing outwards.

New building in the city's north is already prevented by the Jewish outpost of Har Homa. The creation of this new settlement neighbourhood would leave the famed city surrounded on all sides.

The area is considered to be highly sensitive because of Bethlehem's status as a top Palestinian tourist site, where Christians and Muslims live and worship alongside one another.

But the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been emboldened by the Trump administration, which has sided with Israel in the decades-long conflict, and it has continued to permit building settlement homes unopposed in the West Bank.

Around 400,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, with more than 100,000 more living in East Jerusalem.

Israel occupied both territories in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and the Palestinians believe it is planning to annex the West Bank in hope of achieving a "greater Israel".

The international community has regularly condemned the settlement enterprise but Israel has continued building without opposition on the ground bar Palestinian protests and attacks. The settlers are protected by thousands of soldiers.

The building of Jewish outposts in the West Bank and the transfer of Israeli citizens into the territory is considered to be illegal under international law.

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Palestinian officials have cut off all ties with the United States over its moves in favour of Israel. Its failure to censure Israel's settlement enterprise, is just one reason why relations between the two are at an all time low.

Palestinians view the settlements as an attempt to prevent a contiguous Palestinian state on Israel's border. Settlers have not only conducted attacks against Palestinians, but also against the Israeli security forces that defend them, such is their devotion to possessing as much West Bank land as possible.

Despite the break in ties, the US says it will still release a peace plan to end the conflict, even though the Palestinians have said that they will not agree to any deal unless Mr Trump rolls back his series of unilateral moves, such as the relocation of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“The PLO has nothing to do with negotiations. And we’re not waiting for anything. We have already said that the US has disqualified itself from playing any role,” a senior Palestinian official told The National last week.

Confirmed details of that plan have yet to be released, but US ambassador to Israel David Friedman signalled on Saturday that the plan is to be delayed again and is now expected to be released "within the next several months". He said the plan, of which no evidence yet exists, needs some "wordsmithing and smoothing".

Updated: January 8, 2019 05:22 PM

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