Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday the construction of some 800 housing units in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank — just days before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
According to a statement issued by the prime minister’s office, among the units approved would be 100 new homes for the Tal Menashe settlement, where Ester Horgan, a 53-year-old mother of six, was murdered by a Palestinian assailant last month while jogging in a nearby forest.
The new plan includes the legalization of an outpost.
Israeli media outlet Kann reported that alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz has instructed the Defense Ministry panel to convene next week to green-light construction.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a briefing on coronavirus development in Israel at his office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Sept. 13 2020. (Alex Kolomiensky/Yedioth Ahronoth via AP, Pool)
It was not immediately clear how soon the homes would be built, as such construction usually requires approval from several government bodies and a tendering process.
The move has stirred criticism from the opposing parties, such as Yair Lapid, the leader of centrist Yesh Atid political party, who called the move “irresponsible” and said it would cause an unnecessary conflict with the Biden administration.
“The Biden administration has not yet taken office and the government. A sane government does not start an unnecessary battle with a new American President,” Lapid tweeted.
Israeli left-wing organization “Peace Now” said Netanyahu’s announcement signals to the Biden administration that “Israel wants a confrontation.”
The Trump administration has been openly supportive of Netanyahu’s policy regarding the West Bank’s Jewish settlements.
Earlier Monday, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, visited the Knesset – Israel’s legislative branch – at the invitation of the Subcommittee for Policy and Strategy of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. During the closed-door meeting, the ambassador referred to the issue and called it one of his most significant accomplishments.
“We succeeded together and making it stronger than ever before, making our nations more secure, more peaceful and more prosperous,” he said. “And people, as my friends put down the list of some of the accomplishments, whether it recognized the capital of Israel Jerusalem, to sovereignty over the Golan Heights, to the non-illegality, if you will, of communities in Yehuda Veshomron”.
In this Nov. 16, 2020 file photo, workers take a break before European Union officials visit the construction site for Givat Hamatos settlement in Jerusalem. Israel on Monday, Jan. 12, 2021, advanced plans to build 800 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, a move that could strain ties with the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced the move, saying it would include 100 homes in a settlement where an Israeli woman was killed recently in an alleged terror attack. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)
As described in the Biden-Harris website, the Biden administration is expected to adopt a no-tolerance approach with Israel.
“Biden opposes any unilateral steps by either side that undermine a two-state solution,” the website said. “He opposes annexation and settlement expansion and will continue to oppose both as President.”
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. Nearly 500,000 Israelis live in settlements scattered across the West Bank. The Palestinians view settlements as a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace, a position with wide international support.
Israel will hold its fourth round of elections in two years in March, and this decision by Netanyahu is expected to strengthen his support from the right wing citizens and the settlers, which would secure his next term.