Israel has informed the White House that it intends to announce the planning and building of thousands of new settlement units in the occupied West Bank later this month, according to US and Israeli officials speaking to Axios. One of the sources told the outlet, at a minimum, the plan includes 4,000 new housing units being built in existing West Bank settlements.
The Joe Biden administration is ostensibly opposed to these moves as the settlements are seen as undermining prospects for a two-state solution in Palestine. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition includes extremist settlers dead set on substantial colonial expansion, eyeing annexation of the West Bank, and this has not diminished US support.
According to the report, the White House wants Tel Aviv to either cancel its plans or at least tone down the announcement to draw as little attention as possible. This seems unlikely, even though the US provides almost $4 billion per year to Israel in military aid. Additionally, Netanyahu is facing a corruption trial as well as political turmoil resulting from his planned judicial overhaul, expanding settlements will likely be viewed as a win by his base.
Jewish-only colonies, or settlements, which continue to be built inside these territories – militarily occupied for almost sixty years – are illegal per international law. This is a view shared by most of the world community, including in Middle Eastern capital cities like Riyadh where Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently urged his regional counterparts to normalize ties with the Israeli apartheid state.
The Israeli government is also facing criticism from its supporters for temporarily shelving a meeting to discuss a plan for settlement expansion in the West Bank’s E1 area. Located between Jerusalem and the Maale Adumim settlement, the area is highly sensitive. If a Jewish-only settlement is built there it would remove any remaining territorial contiguity between the northern and southern West Bank. Thus, these additional “facts on the ground” would make a future Palestinian state even more unviable.
On Monday, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist leader of the Religious Zionism party, vowed “we will have big news for the settlements in the West Bank imminently.” Smotrich holds sweeping powers over the West Bank, including the approval of new settlements and the demolition of Palestinian homes.
2022 was one of the deadliest years for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2005, according to the UN. Since taking power last December, the current regime in Israel has waged a brutal bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip which murdered 33 people, while Israeli forces and settlers have killed at least 119 Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem so far this year.
Muhammad Tamimi, a two-year old Palestinian boy from the Nabi Saleh village in the West Bank, succumbed to his wounds last Monday after he was shot in the head by the Israeli army.