Israeli authorities have approved building permits for 566 settler homes in occupied East Jerusalem, according to local officials, a move that has drawn condemnation from Palestinian leaders.
The approval of the building plan on Sunday came two days after the inauguration of Donald Trump in the United States, with Israeli official saying the permits had been held up until the end of Barack Obama’s administration, which had been critical of Israeli settlement activity.
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“The rules of the game have changed with Donald Trump’s arrival as president,” Meir Turgeman, Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, told AFP news agency.
“We no longer have our hands tied as in the time of Barack Obama. Now we can finally build.”
Turgeman said that city officials approved the plans that had been previously postponed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request following a UN Security Council resolution in December against Israeli settlement building.
The new permits are for homes in the settlement neighbourhoods of Pisgat Zeev, Ramot and Ramat Shlomo, according to Turgeman, who also heads the planning committee that approved them.
Turgeman said plans for about 11,000 other homes were also in process in East Jerusalem, though he did not say when they could proceed.
‘State above law’
Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law and have been major stumbling blocks in negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
Between 2009 and 2014, Israeli settlements expanded by 23 percent in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the building plans and called on the United Nations to take action, particularly given the recent Security Council resolution.
“It is time to stop dealing with Israel as a state above the law,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from West Jerusalem, said that with Trump now in the White House the Israeli government feels it can build illegal settlements on Palestinian land without facing much criticism.
“They think that this is a retooling of the relationship with the US,” Khan said. “Under President Trump the Israelis feel that they will have a lot more leeway to build on Palestinian land,” he added.
“And this is a message to the world that they can build wherever they want, including on the land of a future Palestinian state.”
Netanyahu said on Sunday that he was to speak with Trump later in the day, their first conversation since the billionaire businessman took office.
Trump has pledged strong support for Israel and vowed during his campaign to recognise Jerusalem as the country’s capital despite the city’s contested status.
Israel clashed frequently with Obama over construction in areas it conquered in 1967.
But Trump’s appointed ambassador to Israel has close ties to Jewish West Bank settlements, as does the foundation run by the family of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.