“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,” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat while describing the move by the previous Obama administration to halt construction of new homes in the region.
On Sunday, the historic city of Jerusalem has finally granted approval for constructing hundreds of new homes in east Jerusalem, while Cabinet ministers called for the annexation of a large West Bank settlement.
“The rules of the game have changed with Donald Trump,” said Mayor Barkat.
After President Barack Obama stepped down from office, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is expecting a new era of closer relations between the Jewish nation and the United States under the leadership of President Donald Trump. The two leaders spoke later on Sunday.
During Israel’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu thanked Trump for his friendship and his pledge during the President’s inaugural speech to eradicate extremist Islamic militants.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home Party, pushed for the Israeli government to annex most of Ma’ale Adumim, a growing urban settlement east of Jerusalem.
The Israeli government has been struggling for years to expand settlements after the Obama administration along with other Western allies strongly opposed the expansion. However, with Trump showing a much softer view towards the settlement, Israeli conservative groups said there is no longer any reason to freeze the expansion.
“For the first time in 50 years, the prime minister can decide: either sovereignty or Palestine,” Bennett wrote on Twitter.
However, Netanhayu, also an official in the Jewish Home Party, urged Bennet to put his settlement proposals on hold. The Prime Minister said that the Trump administration asked him not to make any major move without proper coordination.
The Jewish Home officials were skeptical if Netanyahu’s claims to continue the new annexation move. The Prime Minister’s office declined to comment on the matter.
If the expansion move was implemented, a major conflict would arise, between Israel on one side and the Palestinians along with rest of the international community – which considers the settlements as illegal – on the other side. The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem as part of their independent state. However, since Israel captured the region during the 1967 Mideast war, the Palestinians lost its grip in the region.
The annexation of Ma’ale Adumim would be seen by many leaders as undermining negotiations. The move would also block the establishment of the future Palestinian state.
Meanwhile, 556 new homes are expected to be built in East Jerusalem after the Jerusalem municipal housing committee was granted permits. The permit was placed on hold during the last months of the Obama administration.
The construction is planned in the neighborhoods of Ramot, Pisgat Zeev, and Ramat Shlomo.
In addition, the committee hopes to build 11,000 more homes in East Jerusalem. They anticipate that the plan gets approved before the end of 2017 and they can start construction in the next two to three years.
“We’ve been through eight tough years with Obama pressuring to freeze construction,” said Barkat.
Trump has shown a far kinder approach towards the Jewish nation. The U.S. President appointed a new ambassador to Israel, who has a closer relation to Jewish West Bank settlements. At the same time, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner along with his family foundation donated to West Bank settlements.
Moreover, Trump’s tax records show that he has donated to some Jewish seminary in the settlement.
The new administration also invited a delegation of West Bank settler leaders to Washington to attend the President’s inauguration.
Netanyahu argued that Jews have been present in the region for centuries and their presence does not undermine prospects for peace. The prime minister also blames the Arabs for denying the Jews’ historical connection to the land.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, condemns the Jewish settlement plans and urgedUnited Nation to block the construction. “It is time to stop dealing with Israel as a state above the law,” he said.