Israel starts work on new settlement amid United States peace push

Cheryl Sanders
June 23, 2017

Kushner and Trump diplomatic envoy Jason Greenblatt, who accompanied the president to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank last month, are returning to ask Netanyahu and Abbas "about their priorities and potential next steps", the White House said in a statement Sunday.

Netanyahu had vowed to compensate the residents of Amona with the new settlement, built on a nearby site in the northern West Bank. A picture posted with his announcement shows construction vehicles digging up ground.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the Islamic militant group Hamas took over the territory soon after.

While Israel has continued to expand settlements, this is the first time it has built a new one since the 1990s.

The expansion of existing settlements on the West Bank - territory which Israel occupied during a conflict in 1967, has been a major point of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

When Trump visited Jerusalem on May 22-23, he studiously avoided any mention of settlements, at least in public.

Palestinians regard settlements, around 200 of which have been built over the past 50 years on occupied land that they seek for a state, as obstacles to a viable and contiguous country.

But since taking office, Mr Trump has appeared to change his position.

Kushner, a 36-year-old real estate developer with little experience of global diplomacy or political negotiation, arrived in Israel on Wednesday morning and will spend barely 20 hours on the ground - he leaves shortly after midnight.

US-mediated negotiations collapsed in 2014.

In May, Kushner and Greenblatt both accompanied the President on his visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem to discuss a peace agreement.

Jason Greenblatt, Mr Trump's worldwide envoy, arrived on Monday.

Together they will "spearhead the peace effort" the USA administration believes is possible, a White House official said.

President Obama had been sharply critical of Israeli construction in the West Bank, which Palestinians say must become part of a future Palestinian state.

Since then, Palestinian assailants have killed 43 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British student, mainly in stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks. They will also hear Israeli complaints about alleged anti-Israeli incitement in speeches, textbooks and social media, and demands that they halt welfare payments to the families of Palestinians involved in violence against Israelis.

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