Israel has begun construction of the first new settlement in the occupied West Bank in 25 years, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it an “honour” to build the illegal outpost in defiance of international law.
“After decades, I have the honour to be the first prime minister to build a settlement in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu said on Tuesday, calling the occupied West Bank by its biblical name.
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“There was not, and there will never be, as good a government for the settlements as ours,” the prime minister added.
Since 1992, much of the controversy surrounding Israel’s settlement construction in the occupied territories has revolved around expanding existing settlements.
Before the “Oslo Accords” officially opened negotiations in 1993 – between what would become the Palestinian Authority and Israel – roughly 200,000 settlers illegally lived in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Since then, Israel has expanded the number of settlers to almost 700,000 – thereby making negotiations for a Palestinian state in the occupied territories ineffective.
The new settlement – the first since 1992, according to Israeli NGO Peace Now – is intended to house residents of the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona after the Israeli military demolished it in February.
The plan to construct the new settlement in Emek Shilo – close to the city of Ramallah – was condemned in March both at home and abroad, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressing “disappointment and alarm”.
According to Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from East Jerusalem in March, “Amona is one of the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that was built on private Palestinian land.
“An Israeli high court said that this was illegal, so Netanyahu had to get rid of the people who lived there and move them on to somewhere else,” he added in his report.
“At that stage, [Netanyahu] said, ‘By March 31, I will announce a new settlement for where these people can live’, and [Netanyahu kept] his part of the deal.”
According to Peace Now, the new settlement’s location was “strategic for the fragmentation of the West Bank”.
The construction comes just a week after Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman boasted that Israel planned the biggest settlement expansion this year since 1992.