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Netanyahu announces plan for new illegal settlement to host Amona outpost residents

Feb. 1, 2017 9:16 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 2, 2017 12:42 P.M.)
An Israeli supporter of the illegal Amona outpost throws projectiles at Israeli police on Feb. 1, 2017.
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday evening that he had taken preliminary steps to establish a new illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank to house settlers residing in Amona, on the same day as Israeli forces evacuating the illegal outpost faced violent resistance.

After years of court battles and months of delays, Israeli police forces carried out the evacuation of Amona on Wednesday due to it being built on privately held Palestinian lands.

Hundreds of Amona residents and supporters have adamantly opposed the evacuation of the outpost, which is deemed illegal under both Israeli and international law.

Israeli news outlet Haaretz reported that Netanyahu had named a panel, which would reportedly include representatives from Amona, the Ministry of Defense, and the prime minister’s office, to push forward the establishment of a new settlement.

According to the Israeli newspaper, if carried to fruition, the plan would lead to the creation of the first new settlement officially established by the Israeli government in more than two decades.

Netanyahu’s announcement came mere hours after the Israeli Supreme Court overruled a plan to relocate the Amona settlers to plots of land nearby, which also happened to be privately owned Palestinian property.

Israeli human rights group Yesh Din -- which represented the residents of nearby Palestinian villages whose lands would have been affected by the relocation -- welcomed the ruling on Wednesday.

“We hail the (Supreme Court) decision not to yield to extensive political pressure, and to cancel an illegal plan that would harm Palestinian property rights,” the NGO wrote on Twitter.

In response to the ruling, Israeli Education Minister and ultra-right politician Naftali Bennett said that “the government must build a new settlement for Amona's residents.”

“This would be the proper Zionist response and should do it as soon as possible."

Rights groups have highlighted that, while settler outposts constructed in Palestinian territory are considered illegal by the Israeli government, each of the some 196 government-approved Israeli settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are also built in direct violation of international law.

Netanyahu has been widely criticized for publicly claiming to advocate a two-state solution while simultaneously championing settlement policy to appeal to an increasingly right-wing government and Israeli public.

The evacuation order comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pushing for the speedy passage of the controversial “Legalization bill,” which would see 16 of illegal Israeli outposts in the occupied West Bank -- excluding Amona -- retroactively recognized by the Israeli government.

The bill states that any settlements built in the West Bank “in good faith” -- without knowledge that the land upon which it was built was privately owned by Palestinians -- could be officially recognized by Israel pending “minimal” proof of governmental support in its establishment.

In January, Netanyahu also pledged to lift all restrictions on settlement construction in occupied East Jerusalem and to advance settlement expansion in the West Bank. More than 6,000 housing units have been approved for construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank by the Israeli government since the beginning of 2017.

Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Saeb Erekat released a statement on Tuesday describing Israel’s continued settlement expansion as an “immoral situation,” as he called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to “open an immediate investigation into the Israeli settlement enterprise.”

“The commitment of Netanyahu's government to colonization and segregation and its determination to defy international law and resolutions continues to destroy the prospects of an independent and sovereign State of Palestine,” Erekat said, adding that the Palestinian leadership “will pursue all necessary political, legal and diplomatic steps in order to hold Israel accountable and to bring justice to our people.”

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