EFRAT, West Bank (AP) — An aggressive Israeli settlement spree during the Trump era pushed deeper than ever into the occupied West Bank — territory the Palestinians seek for a state — with over 9,000 homes built and thousands more in the pipeline, an AP investigation showed.
If left unchallenged by the Biden administration, the construction boom could make fading hopes for an internationally backed two-state solution — Palestine alongside Israel — even more elusive.
Satellite images and data obtained by The Associated Press document for the first time the full impact of the policies of then-President Donald Trump, who abandoned decades-long U.S. opposition to the settlements and proposed a Mideast plan that would have allowed Israel to keep them all — even those deep inside the West Bank.
Although the Trump plan has been scrapped, the lasting legacy of construction will make it even harder to create a viable Palestinian state. President Joe Biden’s administration supports the two-state solution but has given no indication on how it plans to promote it.
The huge number of projects in the pipeline, along with massive development of settlement infrastructure, means Biden would likely need to rein in Israel to keep the two-state option alive. While Biden has condemned settlement activity, U.S. officials have shown no appetite for such a clash as they confront more urgent problems. These include the coronavirus crisis, tensions with China and attempting to revive the international nuclear deal with Iran — another major sticking point with Israel.
At the same time, Israel will likely continue to be led by a settlement hawk. In the wake of yet another inconclusive Israeli election, either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or one of his right-wing challengers is poised to head the government, making a construction slowdown improbable.
Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian spokeswoman, called the Trump administration a “partner in crime” with Netanyahu. She said Biden would have to go beyond traditional condemnations and take “very serious steps of accountability” to make a difference.
“It needs a bit of courage and backbone and willingness to invest,” she said.
According to Peace Now, an anti-settlement watchdog group, Israel built over 9,200 new homes in the West Bank during the Trump presidency. On an annual average, that was roughly a 28% increase over the level of construction during the Obama administration, which pressed Israel to rein in building.
Perhaps even more significant was the location of the construction. According to Peace Now, 63% of the homes built last year were in outlying settlements that would likely be evacuated in any peace agreement. Over 10% of the construction in recent years took place in isolated outposts that are not officially authorized, but quietly encouraged by the Israeli government.
“What we’re seeing is the ongoing policy of de facto annexation,” said Hagit Ofran, a Peace Now researcher. “Israel is doing its utmost to annex the West Bank and to treat it as if it’s part of Israel without leaving a scope for a Palestinian state.”
Israel has also laid the groundwork for a massive…
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