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Israel Pushes Ahead With Settlements   01/22 10:16

   JERUSALEM (AP) -- The municipality of Jerusalem granted final approval 
Sunday for the construction of hundreds of new homes in east Jerusalem, while a 
hard-line Cabinet minister pushed the government to annex a major West Bank 
settlement as emboldened Israeli nationalists welcomed the presidency of Donald 
Trump.

   After eight years of testy ties with President Barack Obama, Prime Minister 
Benjamin Netanyahu has said he is looking forward to a new era of close 
relations with the U.S. under Trump. The two were scheduled to talk on the 
phone later Sunday.

   At his weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu thanked Trump for his friendship 
and his inauguration speech pledge to battle radical Islamic militants. He said 
they would discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation in Syria and 
the Iranian threat, among other issues.

   More hawkish elements in his coalition, however, are already calling for 
concrete action given Trump's perceived acquiescence to Israeli settlement 
building.

   Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home 
Party, was pressing the government to back legislation that would annex Maaleh 
Adumim, a sprawling West Bank settlement just east of Jerusalem. He also urged 
Netanyahu to abandon his stated position in favor of a Palestinian state 
alongside Israel.

   Netanyahu, a longtime supporter of the settlements, has nonetheless been 
cautious about expanding them in the face of strong opposition from the U.S. 
and other Western allies. With Trump signaling a much softer line toward the 
settlements, Israeli hard-liners say there is no longer any reason to show 
restraint.

   "For the first time in 50 years, the prime minister can decide: either 
sovereignty or Palestine," Bennett wrote on Twitter.

   An official in the Jewish Home Party said Netanyahu was urging Bennett to 
put his proposal on hold. Netanyahu said that he had been asked by Trump 
administration officials not to take any major action without proper 
coordination, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he 
was not authorized to discuss internal coalition negotiations.

   The official said Jewish Home officials were skeptical of Netanyahu's claims 
and would continue to push the government to approve the annexation measure. 
Netanyahu's office declined to comment.

   Such a move would cause a major clash with the Palestinians and the rest of 
the international community, which consider settlements to be illegal. The 
Palestinians seek all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem --- areas captured by 
Israel in the 1967 Mideast war --- for a future independent state.

   Annexing Maaleh Adumim would be seen as undermining negotiations. It is also 
in a strategic location in the middle of the West Bank that could impede the 
establishment of a future Palestinian state.

   In the meantime, the Jerusalem municipal housing committee granted building 
permits for 566 new homes in east Jerusalem. The permits had been put on hold 
for the final months of the Obama administration.

   Building is planned in the neighborhoods of Ramot, Pisgat Zeev and Ramat 
Shlomo.

   "We've been through eight tough years with Obama pressuring to freeze 
construction," said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. "I hope that era is over and we 
now we can build and develop Jerusalem for the welfare of its residents, Jews 
and Arabs alike."

   Deputy Mayor Meir Turjeman, who heads the committee, said an additional 
11,000 homes were planned in east Jerusalem. He said he hopes to get the plans 
approved by the end of the year and begin construction in the next two to three 
years.

   Israel clashed frequently with Obama over construction in areas it conquered 
in the 1967 Mideast war, and last month, the Obama White House allowed the U.N. 
Security Council to pass a resolution condemning settlements as illegal.

   Trump has signaled he will take a far kinder approach to them.

   Trump's appointed ambassador to Israel has close ties to Jewish West Bank 
settlements as does the foundation run by the family of Trump's son-in-law, 
Jared Kushner. Tax records show Trump also donated money to a Jewish seminary 
in a settlement.

   In a sign of the changing times, a delegation of West Bank settler leaders 
said it was invited by Trump administration officials to attend the 
inauguration.

   Unlike other West Bank settlements, Israel annexed east Jerusalem and 
considers its neighborhoods inseparable parts of its capital. But the 
annexation is not internationally recognized.

   Netanyahu says Jews have been in these areas for centuries and that their 
presence does not undermine prospects for peace. He blames failed peace efforts 
on Arab denials of Jews' historical connections to the land.

   Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, 
condemned the building plans and called on the U.N. to act. "It is time to stop 
dealing with Israel as a state above the law," he said.


(KA)

 
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