While the eviction of the illegal Israeli outpost of Amona was hitting the news last week, thousands of new settlement housing units were being approved elsewhere in the West Bank.
The Israeli media focused on the 24 policemen injured during “Operation Locked Garden 2”, aimed at evicting residents and demolishing the outpost, after a 12-year legal battle during which the eviction was repeatedly postponed. Amona settlers had tried for years to prove they had legally purchased the land, but failed to do so. In 2014, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the outpost be evacuated on grounds it was built on private Palestinian land.
As previously reported by Palestine Monitor, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in December that land slated for the relocation of Amona residents was also private Palestinian land. In January, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained he had taken preliminary steps to establish a new settlement in the occupied West Bank specifically to relocate settlers from Amona. It would be the first new settlement officially established by the Israeli government since the 90s.
Some Amona residents saw the eviction as a new chapter for the settler movement. “I really hope and pray that Amona situation, a sad situation we are living today, is a leftover of the former administration and the former pressure on Israel,” said Eli Greenberg, 43, Amona's former spokesperson. Greenberg also said he expects settlements to develop in the West Bank. “Right now I think that Netanyahu ran out of excuses and he has all the back up he needs from the White House: we can go in the direction of Jewish sovereignty in Judea and Shomron (***the West Bank),” he added.
Palestinian members of the Knesset, like head of the Joint List Ayman Odeh, denounced the double standards of Israeli authorities when it comes to settlers and Palestinians. Odeh pointed out that the 3,000 police staff who came to evacuate less than 1,000 persons (250 inhabitants of Amona and their supporters, mostly hilltop youth from nearby settlements) were unarmed – as opposed to confrontations between police or army and Palestinians in general. Two weeks ago, a teacher from Umm al-Hiran, a village in the Naqab (Negev) desert in southern Israel, was killed by police in contested circumstances during a demolition raid on the Palestinian bedouin village.
“Amona is being evacuated after being built on Palestinian lands that were stolen 20 years ago, while Umm al-Hiran residents were being evacuated from their own lands, without stealing anyone else's lands,” Odeh wrote on Facebook. “Unarmed Israeli police is evacuating Amona in broad daylight, where they are being very cautious in dealing with Israeli settlers, while Israeli police carried out demolitions in Umm al-Hiran completely armed and equipped with military supplies”.
During the eviction, far-right Knesset member Moti Yogev said: "Yes, Amona will be destroyed, but against Amona we are going to build 3,000 new homes.” Moti Yogev is a member of the Jewish Home party, part of the current Israeli government coalition.
Over the past weeks since Donald Trump took power in the US, the Israeli authorities have announced new projects that will add more than 6,000 homes for settlers – 566 in three settlement neighborhoods in occupied east Jerusalem, and the others in the West Bank.
There seems to be a link between the new American president – whose administration only said, after more than 10 days of silence, that new Jewish settlements “may not be helpful” for peace in the Middle East - and this wave of construction. Last week for instance, Israeli officials gave final approval for 153 settler homes in East Jerusalem that had been frozen under pressure from the Obama administration.
"We are building and we will continue building," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated.
In addition, a bill that would retroactively legalise settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land is likely to be passed into law on its last reading, originally scheduled for this week. While all settlements are illegal under international law, outposts are considered illegal under Israeli law as well. However, over the years the Israeli government has approved a number of them, as reported by settlement watchdog Yesh Din.
Spokesperson for President Mahmoud Abbas Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said new settlement construction defies United Nations resolutions and international law. "We have started urgent consultations in order to take the necessary measures to confront the settlement activities," Abu Rudeineh added.
“When building settlements in strategic areas, it also has a very big impact on land continuity,” said Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher with the organisation. “It turns the Palestinian territories into enclaves, and specifically here in Jerusalem, the government's aim is to disconnect East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.”