This latest cabinet-level approval is being variously described as the first in decades (though curiously some say since ‘the early 1990s’, others ‘in more than 20 years’, ‘in 25 years’, ‘since 1998’ or ‘since 2004’). But that does not mean at all that settlement expansion has been suspended for decades. Until the security cabinet and cabinet moves last week, no brand new settlement had been ‘officially’ established – i.e. by open decision of an Israeli government – for many years but settlement expansion previously authorised openly by the top political echelon in successive governments has continued in less visible ways, one object being to avoid or reduce international criticism. Two Israeli government reports – the Sasson report (2005) and the Levy report (2012) – expressly found that, with knowledge and involvement of all levels of government, from the prime minister and ministers down to lowest level agencies, illegal outposts have continued to be established or maintained, and the built footprints of existing settlements (including the so-called main blocs) have continued to expand, often illegally even under Israeli law (conduct that the Levy Report described as not befitting a state that prides itself on the rule of law). The jurisdiction of settlements has been expanded by military orders, land has been reclassified as state land as a step towards settlement or other exclusive use of it by Israel, and some illegal settlements have been retrospectively legalised. The continuing geographic expansion of settlements and related infrastructure has been monitored by Israeli NGOs and others, including by regular aerial photographs. Details are not yet available of the future ‘restraint’ policy also announced by Netanyahu last week, but express qualifications in that announcement, the fact that the settlers’ Yesha Council is not concerned about it, and accompanying announcements about making more land available for construction and reclassification as state land of land that includes at least two outposts, suggest that it leaves enough wiggle room to allow continuing expansion of the built area of all settlements.
Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in over 20 years for Amona evacuees – Barak Ravid – Haaretz 31.03.17
White House official tells Haaretz that Netanyahu decided to build the new settlement before Trump laid out his concerns about settlements, adds that Israel will take Trump’s concerns into consideration from now on.
Israel will curb settlement expansion to satisfy Trump – Ralph Ahren – The Times of Israel 31.03.17
Netanyahu says construction will be limited to current boundaries or — if constraints do not permit — as near to them as possible. Not yet clear whether constitutes any significant change in policy beyond a general declaration of intent. [Note: ‘current boundaries’ may refer to the areas of jurisdiction of settlements, which are far wider than the existing built areas.]
Israel’s most right-wing cabinet ever curbs settlement construction – but the settlers keep mum – Barak Ravid – Haaretz 31.03.17
There is no official freeze and, on the face of it, no limits were set to building in the Jewish neighborhoods over the Green Line in Jerusalem and no distinction has been made between construction in the settlement blocs and in the isolated settlements. But if the vagueness of the new policy gives Netanyahu some leeway, it also has its hazards.
UK, France, Germany slam Israeli announcement to build new settlement – The Times of Israel 31.03.17
European powers issue closely-timed statements saying new planned West Bank site for Amona residents would violate international law. Condemnation also by UN Secretary General and the Palestinians. Trump administration warns again re settlement activity but welcomes announcement re future restraint.
Hundreds of Jews and Arabs march in Jerusalem against Israeli occupation – Nir Hasson – Haaretz 01.04.17
Rally comes hours after stabbing attack in Jerusalem, which organizers say ‘was a painful reminder of the price of the occupation.’
And see: Netanyahu refuses to confine settlement expansion to existing built areas March 18, 2017