Benjamin Netanyahu has bowed to intense pressure from settler leaders and announced he would authorise hundreds of new homes in West Bank settlements.
The announcement was made on the understanding that the United States would not condemn the new building programme, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office said, although there was confusion over the precise number that would be built.
The new homes, which are to be formally authorised by the West Bank Civil Authority planning commission next week, will include also construction outside the “settlement blocs” in places such as Hebron.
Not all the settler leaders praised the move. Samaria Council leader Yossi Dagan, an influential Likud member who has threatened in recent weeks to launch protests against the prime minister, said that the announcement on new building permits was “spin and recycling”.
“Every new housing unit publicised by the prime minister’s office has already been counted five times over,” he said.
Since US President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, settler leaders have been urging the prime minister to approve buidling tens of thousands of new homes in the West Bank and to extend Israeli sovereignty to settlements near Jerusalem such as Ma’ale Adumim.
Mr Netanyahu has so far authorised a few hundred new homes, but held off any wider steps, claiming that the new administration has asked him to exercise restraint as it is still working on its Middle East policy.
The announcement comes amid mixed messages from Washington.
Two weeks ago, David Friedman, the new U.S. ambassador to Israel, said in an interview with Israeli media that the settlements are part of Israel. The State Department however clarified later that the U.S. policy has not changed.
Mr Trump, who promised during his election campaign to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, said over the weekend in an interview that he would like to give his peace plan “a shot, before I even think about moving the embassy to Jerusalem.”
We’re working on a plan that everybody says will never work,” he promised. “If that doesn’t work, which it’s possible that it won’t, to be totally honest, most people say it’s an impossible deal. I don’t think it is impossible, and I think it’s something that can happen, and I’m not making any predictions.”
But officials in Washington or Jerusalem have yet to hear any concrete deals of such a plan, leading to widespread scepticism.