With little resistance from a friendly White House, Israel has launched a new colony push in the Occupied West Bank since United States President Donald Trump took office, laying the groundwork for what could be the largest construction binge in years, according to data obtained by the Associated Press.
The figures, gathered from official government sources by the anti-colony monitoring group Peace Now, show an increase in building in 2018 and a sharp spike in planning for future construction.
Both supporters and opponents of colonies confirm a change in atmosphere since early 2017, when Trump took over from Barack Obama, whose administration had tried to rein in construction.
“The feeling of the (Israeli) government is everything is allowed, that the time to do things is now because the (US) administration is the most pro-colony you can ever have,” said Hagit Ofran of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch programme.
Palestinians say Jewish colonies make a future state impossible.
US moves embassy from Tel Aviv to Occupied Jerusalem
In May 2018, the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Occupied Jerusalem sparking outrage in the Arab world and condemnation from the international community including its western allies.
Israel occupied Jerusalem in the 1967, in a move not recognised internationally.
It has since then tried to change the facts on the ground by making life difficult for its Palestinian residents and increasing Jewish presence there.
It has also encouraged Jewish raids on Al Haram Al Sharif, Islam’s third holiest site and restricted Palestinian access to the site.
It has changed most signage from Arabic to Hebrew and Palestinians say Israel has been trying to erase Palestinian and Muslim identity from the holy city.
Palestinians also say that Israel has had designs on the city since its occupation and it has been laying the ground work for its full annexation ever since.
Annexation of Golan Heights
In April, US President Donald Trump made the controversial decision to recognise Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights.
The Occupied Golan Heights is a fertile plateau in Syria’s south.
It was seized and later occupied by Israel from Syria during the 1967 War.
Syrian forces began a failed attempt to reclaim the territory in 1973.
That war ended with an armistice that left most of the Occupied Golan Heights under the control of Israel.
In 1981, Israel passed a law that effectively annexed it, but that move was never recognised internationally.
At the time, the US administration of Ronald Reagan retaliated by suspending a strategic cooperation agreement between the United States and Israel.
According to some estimates, there are around 50,000 people, with illegal Jewish colonists making up nearly half.
The rest are Syrian Druze. Druze residents of the Occupied Golan Heights have largely resisted obtaining Israeli citizenship and have maintained a strong connection to Syria for decades.
About the Jordan Valley:
Around 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli colonists live in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
The main Palestinian city is Jericho, with around 28 villages and smaller Bedouin communities.
The area has enormous potential for agricultural and energy projects, among other uses. The Dead Sea draws tourists, and salt and minerals are mined there.
Palestinians see the Jordan Valley as their future breadbasket and Israel have been steadily uprooting Arab farmers and herders from the area.
The Jordan Valley runs along the east edge of the West Bank, the heavily Palestinian-populated area taken by Israel in the 1967 war, marking its boundary with neighbouring Jordan. According to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, nearly 90 per cent of the Jordan Valley and the area around the northern Dead Sea has already been designated as part of what is known as Area C — meaning it is under full Israeli security and civil control.
The areas not designated as Area C include the city of Jericho — one of the world’s earliest settlements dating back to 9000 BCE — which would not be annexed under Netanyahu’s proposal.
Jericho today is a Palestinian city in the West Bank.
It is located in the Jordan Valley, near Jordan River to the east and Jerusalem to the west. It is governed by the Palestinian National Authority.
Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 war.
It is considered occupied territory and Israeli colonies established are illegal under international law.
Nonetheless, about 200 colonies have been established in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as their capital under a two-state solution to the conflict.