Occupied Jerusalem - The Israeli regime went on a spending binge in its West Bank colonies following the election of President Donald Trump, according to official data obtained by The Associated Press.
Both supporters and detractors of the colony movement have previously referred to a “Trump effect,” claiming the president’s friendlier approach to the colonies is leading to additional West Bank construction.
While the new Israeli figures obtained in a freedom of information request do not prove a direct connection, they indicate this process may already be underway, showing a 39 per cent increase in 2017 spending on roads, schools and public buildings across the occupied West Bank.
Hagit Ofran, a researcher with the anti-colony monitoring group Peace Now, said it appears that Trump’s election has emboldened Israel’s pro-colonist regime.
“They are not shy anymore with what they are doing,” she said. “They feel more free to do whatever they want.”
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, offered even sharper criticism. “This proves that the current US administration encouraged colony activities,” he said.
Since capturing the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war, the Israeli regime has “settled” some 700,000 of its citizens in the two areas, which are considered occupied territory by most of the world. The international community has objected to Israel’s moving people into colonies in those territories as both illegal and a deliberate obstacle to any future Palestinian state.
The Palestinians, who claim both the West Bank and east Jerusalem as parts of their future state, consider the colonies illegal land grabs. Scores of fast-growing colonies control strategic hilltops and swaths of the West Bank, making it increasingly difficult to partition the territory.
For decades, the international community and the US have expressed concern over the colonies while doing little to halt their construction. But since taking office, Trump, whose inner circle of Mideast advisers have longstanding ties to the colonist movement, has taken a different approach. The White House has urged restraint but refrained from the blanket condemnations of its Republican and Democratic predecessors.
“The Trump administration is undoubtedly the most friendly American administration of all time,” said Oded Revivi, the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha colonies’ council. “In contrast, the Obama years were extremely hard for Israel. Now we are making up for lost ground.”
The government statistics, released by Israel’s Finance Ministry, showed Israeli spending in the West Bank in 2017, Trump’s first year in office, rose to 1.65 billion shekels, or $459.8 million, from 1.19 billion shekels in 2016.
The 2017 figures were the highest in the 15 years of data provided by the Finance Ministry, though spending also climbed in 2016. At the time, President Barack Obama, a vocal critic of the colonies, was a lame duck, and relations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were cool.
In contrast, the lowest year of Israeli spending was 2009, when both Netanyahu and Obama took office, when it was 760.7 million shekels. The data included only the first half of 2018, so full-year comparisons were not available.
The ministry released the data after two years of requests from the AP, which received backing early this year from “The Movement for Freedom of Information,” a legal advocacy group that assists journalists.
The new data added to Palestinian distrust of the US, boding poorly for a new peace plan the administration says it is preparing.
The Palestinian National Authority cut off ties with the White House after Trump recognised occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017 and subsequently moved the American Embassy to the contested city. US cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars of aid for the Palestinians have further poisoned the atmosphere.
Claiming the Trump administration is unfairly biased, the Palestinians already have said they will reject any US peace plan.
Abu Rdeneh, the Palestinian spokesman, said the numbers are “another reason why we think that the US plan is unfair.”
The Finance Ministry data is collected each year and shared with the US, which under a policy going back to President George H.W. Bush deducts the sum from loan guarantees for Israel.