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Israel approves budget for new illegal settlement for Amona evacuees

Sept. 3, 2017 8:25 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 4, 2017 1:26 P.M.)
Palestinians walking near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, in the occupied West Bank, on April 7, 2015 (AFP/Abbas Momani/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Israeli government approved the budget of the illegal Amihai settlement on Sunday, to allow construction for Israel’s first new official settlement to be established in the occupied West Bank in 25 years -- in order to house settlers from the Amona outpost, which was demolished by order of the Israeli Supreme Court in February.

The budget, amounting to some 60 million shekels (approximately $16 million), was confirmed by Israel’s cabinet during its weekly meeting, and will be transferred to the jurisdiction of Israel’s interior ministry to carry out the construction.

Israeli authorities broke ground on the settlement, located in the northern occupied West Bank district of Nablus, in June. However, the construction was later frozen owing to a lack of funds.

Amihai’s future residents, who aggressively resisted their evacuation from Amona in February, resulting in the injury of dozens of Israeli soldiers who did little to suppress the violence -- thanked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the interior minister for promoting the illegal settlement.

Israeli news site Arutz Sheva quoted Amona leader Avichai Boaron as saying that "after long weeks in which work to establish the new community did not move forward and after a rollercoaster week before the decision was taken, we cautiously welcome the decision which will lead to resumption of work.”

Boaron added that "we congratulate the prime minister and his bureau on promoting the decision. The prime minister proved that he is committed to Amona members, but this commitment will be fulfilled when we enter the new town.”

The 40 families have reportedly since been living in the Ofra field school in another illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Meanwhile, Palestinians from the village of Jalud who claim they own the land where Amihai is being built, have filed a case with Israel’s Higher Planning Council of Judea and Samaria (West Bank), while Israeli rights group Yesh Din has petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court against the decision to establish the new settlement.

According to Israeli watchdog Peace Now, Amihai’s construction is aimed at expanding the already-established Shilo settlement towards the Jordan Valley. The adjacent Shvut Rachel East settlement was also approved in February, but the Israeli government has considered it a “neighborhood of Shilo” instead of an official settlement.

The Amihai settlement, Peace Now reported, would be located near Shvut Rachel East on adjacent hilltops. “Under the disguise of ‘compensation’ to the Amona settlers, two new settlements, located one next to the other, are now in the making,” the group said back in May.

“The two new settlements are located in a region that serves as focal point of settler land takeover and settler violence, preventing Palestinians from reaching their lands,” the group added.

There are some 196 government recognized Israeli settlements scattered across the Palestinian territory, all considered illegal under international law.

While settlement outposts such as Amona have been considered illegal even under Israeli domestic law, earlier this year, Israel passed the outpost Regularization law, which paves the way for the retroactive legalization of dozens of Israeli settler outposts.

Between 500,000 and 600,000 Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements across occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank in violation of international law. The international community has consistently said that their presence on occupied Palestinian territory was a major impediment to peace in the region.

Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi slammed the Israeli plan for the new settlement in March, saying that it “once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace."
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