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Israel begins work on first new illegal settlement in 20 years

Netanyahu announces work on Amichai, in the West Bank, a day before meeting US senior adviser Jared Kushner on peace talks
Heavy machinery on the site of a new illegal settlement of Amichai, in the occupied West Bank (screengrab)

Israel broke ground on Tuesday on its first new illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank for two decades, Israel's prime minister said, on the eve of a visit by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner to discuss peace talks.

"Work began today on-site, as I promised, to establish the new settlement," Benjamin Netanyahu said in a post on Twitter which included a photograph of mechanical equipment digging into a rocky field.

He was referring to the construction of Amichai, which will house 300 illegal settlers evicted in February from the Amona outpost after Israel's Supreme Court ruled their homes had been built illegally on privately owned Palestinian land.

"After dozens of years, I have the privilege to be the prime minister building a new settlement in Judaea and Samaria," Netanyahu said, using the Hebrew term for the occupied West Bank.

No date has been announced for housing construction on the new illegal settlement. 

The White House said on Sunday that Kushner, US President Donald Trump's son-in-law, would arrive in Israel on Wednesday and that he and Jason Greenblatt, a top US national security aide who preceded him on Monday, would meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called the ground-breaking "a grave escalation and an attempt to foil efforts by the American administration to revive negotiations," especially [before] the arrival of the US envoys".

Lengthy process

Kushner and Greenblatt will sound out both sides "about their priorities and potential next steps" as part of Trump's attempt to revive peace talks that collapsed in 2014, a White House official said.

But the official said any peace deal "will take time" and likely require "many visits by both Mr Kushner and Mr Greenblatt" to the region.

Palestinians regard settlements, around 200 of which have been built over the past 50 years on occupied land that they seek for a state, as obstacles to a viable and contiguous country. Around 400,000 Israelis now live in West Bank settlements, among around 2.8 million Palestinians.

When Trump visited Jerusalem on 22-23 May, he studiously avoided any mention of settlements, at least in public.

Israel decided in March to build Amichai, which means "My People Live," and in recent weeks it has approved plans for more than 3,000 settler homes elsewhere in the West Bank.

Most countries view settlements that Israel has built on land captured in the June 1967 Middle East war as illegal. Israel disputes that, citing biblical, historical and political links to the West Bank, as well as security interests.

The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with its capital in East Jerusalem, and also claim historical and political links to the land.

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and the territory is now ruled by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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