Heavy machinery work on a field as they begin construction work of Amichai, a new settlement which will house some 300 Jewish settlers evicted in February from the illegal West Bank settlement of Amona, in the West Bank June 20, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Israel began building a new settlement on Tuesday as the United Nation Security Council in New York debated its noncompliance with Resolution 2334 that called for a halt to such activity.
In the morning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a photograph on Twitter of cranes starting to build homes in the newly founded settlement of Amihai in the Binyamin region of the West Bank.
“Today work has begun in the field, just as I promised, to create a new settlement for the Amona residents.
“After 20 years, I have the privilege to be the prime minster who builds a new settlement in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu said of Amihai. It is the first settlement to be created by a cabinet vote in over 20 years.
It is the first time Netanyahu has so openly boasted of settlement building with a photograph on Twitter or any other social media platform.
It’s the latest in a string of public statements he has made in support of extensive settlement building that signal a new attitude on the topic by his government.
He took to Twitter hours before meeting with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, who is in Israel and the Palestinian territories to push forward the peace process.
Typically, Israel defers or delays such activity during visits of notable US officials.
Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh accused Israel of attempting to thwart US peace efforts, adding it is a “serious escalation” of settlement building.
“This announcement is a message coinciding with the arrival of the US president’s envoys to the region, which indicates that Israel is not interested in American efforts and is serious about thwarting these efforts as it did with previous US administrations,” Abu Rudeineh told Wafa, the Palestinian News Agency.
Later in New York, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, delivered his second quarterly report on Israeli settlement construction since the Security Council passed Resolution 2334 in December.
“Since the 24th of March there has been a substantial increase in settlement-related announcements as compared with the previous reporting period, with plans for nearly 4,000 housing units moving forward and 2,000 tenders issued,” Mladenov said.
“The policy of continued illegal settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territory contravenes Resolution 2334,” he said.
“The large number of settlement- related activities documented during this period undermine the chances for the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution,” Mladenov added.
He spoke as Netanyahu came under attack from the right-wing flank of his own party and that of his coalition partner the Bayit Yehudi party for failing to do enough for the settlement enterprise.
At a small pro-settlement rally in front of the Knesset on Monday, protesters chanted, “Netanyahu the liar.”
In December Netanyahu had promised the 40 families from the Amona outpost he would create an entirely new settlement for them. In February security forces enforced a High Court of Justice ruling and evacuated the unauthorized community, which was built on private Palestinian property.
Many of the families are living in the dormitories of a field school in the Ofra settlement, close to where Amona was located.
They have refused to leave until modular homes are set up for them at the site of the new Amihai settlement, just outside of Shiloh. Earlier this month, the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria advanced plans for 102 homes at the site.
On Tuesday morning, the Amona evacuees cautiously responded to news that infrastructure work had begun.
“We applaud the start of the work and pray it won’t be interrupted or stopped,” the Amona families said in a joint statement.
“The [Israeli] public expects the prime minister not to allow any hostile element, be it from the Left or from judicial and clerical officials, to stop the work,” the families said.
“We can’t let this victory, the creation of a new settlement in Judea and Samaria, to turn into a failure or a farce,” they said.
“The public has already suffered many disappointments.
The responsibility now rests with the government and the one who heads it,” the families added.
Residents of the Beit El settlement have set up a protest tent outside the Knesset to pressure Netanyahu to make good on his 2012 pledge to build 300 new homes in exchange for the peaceful evacuation of 30 homes in the Ulpana outpost.
The High Court of Justice had similarly ruled that five apartment complexes, each with six units, had to be razed.
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.