Israel announced its plan to build new settlements in the West Bank today as the United States signals it will support Israeli annexation of the Palestinian territory and the top US diplomat plans a visit next week.
On Wednesday, Israel’s Defense Ministry said it had approved the building of around 7,000 housing units in Efrat between Jerusalem and Hebron, Reuters reported.
Israel captured the strategic West Bank from Jordan during the 1967 war with the Hashemite Kingdom and Egypt. The population is majority Palestinian. Israel began building settlements for Jewish citizens in the area shortly after the war.
Most of the international community regards the settlements as illegal, since the West Bank is considered occupied. The United States, Israel’s top ally, also long considered the settlements illegal across Democratic and Republican administrations. However, last year, the Donald Trump administration reversed course.
The construction comes at a time when Israel is moving toward annexing the territory with some US support. Last September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his intention to annex the territory during his re-election campaign.
In an interview with Israel Hayom today, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said the United States would recognize Israeli sovereignty after a partial annexation of the West Bank. Conditions of the recognition include approval by the Israeli parliament and a freeze on settlement building in the non-annexed parts of the territory.
Also on Wednesday, the Israeli press reported that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel next week. He is set to discuss annexation and Israel’s proposed unity government between Netanyahu and former rival Benny Gantz. The deal is currently being reviewed by Israel’s top court.
Annexing the West Bank has been a longtime Israeli security objective. If the Palestinians were to have a sovereign state there, Israeli territory would only be a few miles wide in some areas.
The idea has received significant condemnation internationally, particularly following Netanyahu and Gantz’ unity deal. The Arab League said the move would violate international law in April. Multiple EU ambassadors also told Israel that annexation would be met with fierce international opposition.