Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Netanyahu pushes ahead on settlements

Published:Wednesday | January 25, 2017 | 1:00 AM
This March 14, 2011 file photo, shows a general view of a construction site in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Modiin Illit. B'tselem. Israel says it has approved 2,500 homes in West Bank settlements. (AP)

JERUSALEM (AP):

Israel announced plans yesterday to build 2,500 more settler homes on the West Bank, moving to step up construction just days after the swearing-in of Donald Trump brought to power a US administration seen as friendly to the settlement movement.

"We are building - and we will continue to build," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer did not answer directly when asked about Trump's reaction.

"Israel continues to be a huge ally of the United States," Spicer said. "He wants to grow closer with Israel to make sure that it gets the full respect that it deserves in the Middle East."

While Trump has signalled that he will be far more tolerant of Israeli settlement construction than his predecessors, he also has expressed a desire to broker a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, and siding closely with Israel on such a contentious matter could hurt US credibility.

Netanyahu repeatedly clashed with President Barack Obama over settlement construction.

Obama, like the rest of the international community, considered the building of settlements on occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians to be an obstacle to peace. Those tensions boiled over last month when the Obama White House allowed the UN Security Council to pass a resolution condemning the settlements as illegal.

Trump harshly criticised Obama for going against Israel and promised a new approach after taking office, raising hopes inside Israel's nationalist government for a new era in relations.

Trump has already invited Netanyahu to visit the White House next month, and both men, after speaking on the phone Sunday, promised close coordination on a range of sensitive matters.