JERUSALEM (AP) — Ground was broken in the West Bank for the first new Israeli settlement in two decades, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday as President Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy, as well as son-in-law and aide Jared Kushner, arrive in the region for talks with Israel and Palestinian leaders.
Netanyahu had vowed to build the settlement to replace Amona, a settlement outpost built on private Palestinian land that was dismantled in February following an Israeli Supreme Court ruling. Pro-settlement hard-liners who dominate Netanyahu’s coalition and oppose Palestinian statehood on security or religious grounds had pressed him to keep that promise.
“Today work began in the field, as I promised, to establish a new community for the Amona settlers,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter. “After decades, I have the privilege to be the prime minister to build a new community,” he said. A picture posted with his announcement shows construction vehicles digging up ground.
Over 600,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the Islamic militant group Hamas took over the territory soon after.
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But Israel has not built a full-fledged new settlement since the 1990s. Instead, construction during that period has expanded existing settlements or taken place in unauthorized outposts like Amona.
The Palestinians claim the territory captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war, for their future state, a demand that has wide international support.
In December, weeks before Trump was inaugurated, President Barack Obama allowed the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution that declared all settlements in both areas to be illegal. Trump condemned the decision at the time.
On the campaign trail, Trump indicated he would be far more sympathetic to settlements than Obama. His platform made no mention of an independent Palestinian state, and his inner circle includes strong supporters of the settlement movement.
But since taking office, Trump has appeared to change his position.
The Palestinians and the international community consider the settlements obstacles to Palestinian statehood. Israel says the status of settlements as well as other core issues, such as security, should be resolved in peace talks.
U.S. mediated negotiations collapsed in 2014.
Trump’s senior aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner will arrive on Wednesday for meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s international envoy, arrived on Monday.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Kushner and Greenblatt will hear from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior officials during the trip.
Later Tuesday, the Israeli military said a Palestinian tried to stab soldiers on duty in the West Bank who responded by opening fire, killing him.
Israel is enduring a wave of Palestinian attacks on civilians and security forces that erupted in 2015.
Since then, Palestinian assailants have killed 43 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British student, mainly in stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks. In that period, some 251 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. Israel identified most of them as attackers.
Israel blames the violence on incitement by Palestinian political and religious leaders compounded on social media sites that glorify violence and encourage attacks.
Palestinians say it stems from anger over decades of Israeli rule in territory they claim for their state.