The average annual construction rate in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory has risen 25 per cent since US President Donald Trump took office, according to new figures yesterday.
As reported by the Associated Press (AP), the data from settlement watchdog Peace Now shows that Israeli settlement activity maintained a "rapid pace" in 2019, boosted by US administration support.
In addition, and "perhaps more significantly", AP added, "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government last year approved plans to build thousands of new homes, laying the groundwork for a sharp spike in construction in the coming years."
"In my opinion, they're trying to take advantage of the window of opportunity that they have under the Trump administration, knowing that it might change in a few months," said Peace Now researcher Hagit Ofran.
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"There was no such supportive administration for the settlements previously, ever."
There are almost three-quarters of a million Israeli settlers living in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in more than 200 settlements viewed by the international community as illegal. The settlements are at the heart of a regime seen by human rights groups as inherently discriminatory.
According to Peace Now, citing official figures, Israel began construction on 1,917 new settlement homes in the West Bank last year. Though slightly down on 2,100 construction starts in 2018, overall, "Israel has begun construction on an average of 2,267 homes per year since Trump took office, compared to an annual average of 1,807 units during the Obama administration".
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Significantly, as reported by AP, "the construction was scattered throughout the West Bank, including small settlements deep inside the territory."
Peace Now's data further revealed that "Israel last year advanced plans to build nearly 8,457 new homes, putting them on track to potentially be built in the coming years — up from 5,618 units last year and 6,742 in 2017".
By comparison, "Israel advanced plans for a total 4,611 new homes during the final two years of the Obama administration."
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Oded Revivi, mayor of the settlement of Efrat, told AP it was "no secret" that the Trump administration has been more tolerant of construction.
"If we still have the same players, Netanyahu and Trump, I predict the figures you will see in 2020, or more accurately 2021, will actually be higher than 2019," he said.