Israel has announced plans to move forward with the construction of 500 homes for Jewish settlers in occupied East Jerusalem, the first such move since the US presidential election.
“This morning, the local planning and building committee made the decision to advance [plans]… for 500 units in Ramat Shlomo,” the Ir Amim anti-settlement NGO said, referring to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish settlement near the Palestinian neighbourhood of Shuafat.
The plans had been on hold since 2014, Ir Amin said.
The Jerusalem municipality said the “plans in question are not new and were approved years ago”.
More than 200,000 Israeli settlers now live in communities in East Jerusalem, which Israel has occupied along with the rest of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and parts of Egypt and Syria since the 1967 war.
More than half-a-million Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. They are considered illegal by international law.
Speaking to Israel’s Channel Two last week, Meir Turgeman, the vice mayor of Jerusalem, said: “There are a lot more plans, and I intend to use the US transition period to get them approved.”
Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, described the announcement as “a very serious strategic and dangerous” decision.
“This wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the failure and silence of the international community,” Barghouti told Al Jazeera.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, also condemned the move.
“It is time that the US, the European Union, and all states that claim commitment to the two-state solution adopt concrete steps and measures to prevent the completion of these dangerous plans and to impose sanctions on Israel before it draws the whole region into further violence, extremism, and instability,” she said, as reported by the local Ma’an News Agency.
The Trump effect
Though the US president-elect has said he would “love” to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, many feel his election will embolden Israel’s far-right and the settlement movement it supports.
Reporting from East Jerusalem, Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith noted the move “comes in the waning weeks of the Obama administration”.
“This is a decision only so far taken at the municipality level,” he said. “It hasn’t reached the prime minister’s office yet. But if there’s very significant international outrage, then maybe the prime minister could freeze this extension to try and avoid Israel being criticised internationally further.”
Between 2009 and 2014, settlements were expanded by at least 23 percent.
Israel’s hard-line right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has time and again vowed to continue settlement expansion. In March 2015, the day before Israelis re-elected him, Netanyahu promised to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state under his watch.
According to Barghouti, the electoral victory of Trump has already heartened Israel’s far-right settlement movement.
“The real policy of the Israeli government is definitely to destroy the very last opportunity to build a Palestinian state and kill the so-called two state solution,” he said.
Statements made by Trump, who has claimed all of Jerusalem as part of Israel, and his political allies “are support for nothing short of violating international law”, Barghouti added.