Israel has approved building permits for an additional 560 homes in three settlements in occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday.
The announcement came just 48 hours after Donald Trump took office as the 45th American president.
Israel Radio talked to the Chairman of Jerusalem city hall’s Planning and Building committee, Meir Turgeman, who said the permits had been in the works, but delayed until Barack Obama was out of office.
“I was told to wait until Trump takes office because he has no problem with building in Jerusalem,” Turgeman told Israel Radio, adding that there were hundreds more units awaiting approval.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Reuters: “We strongly condemn the Israeli decision to approve the construction.”
Obama – especially towards the end of his presidency – was critical of Israel’s settlement expansion on the grounds that it was destructive to regional peace and risked derailing a stable two-state solution. In his final weeks as president, he had to explain to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu why the US had withheld its traditional UN veto to block a new resolution condemning the illegal settlements. The American veto has protected Israel a great number of times before.
Trump, on the other hand, may take a different line, as he edges US policy closer to Israel – most crucially, with plans to relocate the embassy of the United States from Tel Aviv to disputed Jerusalem. This has been welcomed warmly by the Israelis, while sending shock waves throughout the Arab world – with Jordan openly declaring that the move may lead to an explosion in radical Islamism, and Palestine threatening to revoke its recognition of the Israeli state.
Israel’s final approval of the new building permits was issued Sunday, marking a 180-degree reversal in Washington’s policy toward Tel Aviv. But settlement-building was unlikely to stop anyway, given that in 2016 it was revealed that hundreds of projects were still in the pipeline, to be built in the coming years.
The current projects, according to Reuters, had been taken off the agenda in December at the last minute, following Netanyahu’s orders not to anger outgoing US President Barack Obama.
But Israeli right-wingers expect Trump to be far more cooperative on the matter.
Israel has been building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank since 1967. The Palestinians believe East Jerusalem to be theirs. But Israel has been forcefully denying Palestinians the territory.