As Illegal Outpost Cleared, Israeli PM Netanyahu Announces New West Bank Settlement

The announcement comes as one illegal outpost is cleared.

— JERUSALEM -- As Jewish settlers and protesters were removed from an illegal outpost in the occupied West Bank overnight, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to build the first new settlement in nearly two decades.

As the sun rose Thursday morning in Amona, the outpost's synagogue contained activists chained to tires, making it difficult for police to extract them. All day Wednesday, the images of struggle -- including burning tires and stone-throwing protesters -- were broadcast on Israeli TV.

And as the court-ordered evacuation neared its end, police pleaded with those remaining to leave peacefully.

There were light clashes, injuring 24 policeman, said the Israeli police. Thirteen protesters were arrested.

After years of court battles, Israel's high court ruled in 2014 that Amona was built on private Palestinian land and must be demolished.

"This is a dark day for us, for Zionism, for the state and for the great vision of the Jewish people returning to its homeland,” Avichay Boaron, a spokesman for Amona told Israel's Channel 2 on Wednesday.

But Tuesday night, as the Israeli police prepared to enter Amona, the Netanyahu announced 3,000 new settlement units in the West Bank. And by Wednesday night, Netanyahu had made another announcement: The establishment of a new settlement, the first since 1999.

In a late-night statement from the Prime Minister's Office, Netanyahu said he had promised this to settlers six weeks ago and he was naming a team to start planning the settlement.

"The team will be comprised of settler representatives, a representative of the Ministry of Defense and the PM's Chief of Staff," said the statement, adding that the work will be begin "immediately."

While technically no new settlements have been established since the late 1990s, the settlement population has more than doubled since then, growing to an estimated 590,000, according to the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.

At least 19 outposts have been retroactively approved, according to the Israeli legal organization Yesh Din.

Established settlements, meanwhile, have sprawled over the years, creeping beyond their original boundaries, what Israelis refer to as "natural growth." The Palestinians have long maintained that there's no difference between new settlements and the expansion of existing settlements, and the United Nations considers outposts and settlements alike illegal under international law.

President Trump has been in office just two weeks, and during that time, Netanyahu has announced the most rapid settlement expansion in decades without receiving criticism from the White House.

In addition to the new settlement, more than 6,000 units have been approved since Inauguration Day. Next week, Israel's parliament, the Knesset, is expected to vote on a bill to allow retroactive "legalization" under Israeli law of other outposts.

“We are in a new era, where life in Judea and Samaria goes back to its normal and proper course,” said Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in a statement. Lieberman lives in a settlement himself and uses the biblical name for the West Bank preferred by the Israeli right.

Before the announcement, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the pro-settler, far-right Jewish Home party, tweeted that "the government must approve a new settlement for the Amona residents. This will be the proper Zionist answer and we should make it happen soonest."

Politically, Netanyahu desperately needs the growing right-wing settler constituency, and under President Obama, he was not able to give them what they wanted without incurring the wrath of the White House.

The latest construction plans seem to signal that President Trump has given the green light to build on occupied land, violating the latest UN Security Council resolution that condemned Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as having "no legal validity."

As Amona was being cleared Wednesday, the Jewish Home party's Bennett said to his peers in the Knesset, "We lost the battle [of Amona], but we are winning the campaign for the land of Israel."