Issam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Israel approves settlement expansion amid backlash against demolitions

Prime minister announces construction of 300 homes and advances plans for 504 others after settler protests

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the “immediate construction” on Wednesday of 300 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beit El and has advanced plans for 504 new housing units in Israeli settlement areas in East Jerusalem.

The announcement came amid a standoff in Beit El, where Israeli settlers clashed with Israeli forces as authorities began to demolish a settlement complex there, and pressure from pro-settler political parties.

All Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and other Palestinian territories occupied since the Six Day War in 1967 are illegal under international law. Palestinians have repeatedly called for Israel to freeze settlement activities as a condition for peace talks, arguing that negotiations about the borders of a potential Palestinian state were futile as long as Israel continues to infringe on Palestinian territory.

Israel's Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the Beit El complex must be demolished.

The Israeli government had fought the ruling and made efforts to legalize the complex, under construction without prior Israeli authorization. The Supreme Court rejected a petition to overturn the court's initial ruling to demolish the complex and ordered the demolition be completed by Thursday.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of the Jewish Home party, said the court’s order to demolish the complex must be followed but said there was little reason to worry as the buildings would be immediately rebuilt, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. “This is the Jewish way. You don’t lose hope, and you keep building, building, building.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of Habayit Hayehudi party, denounced the court’s ruling but praised the prime minister’s response.

“The court’s role is to judge. The government’s role is to build. This is the appropriate Zionist response. This how you build our state,” Haartez quoted him as saying in a statement.

Tempers are high among some in the settler community as it marks a decade since Israel's “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip, when Israel in the summer of 2005 withdrew all its civilians and soldiers from all of the settlements there and in a number of West Bank settlements. Israel retains control of Gaza’s borders, airspace and coast.

Israel initially promised to build the 300 housing units in Beit El three years ago, when Israel ordered the removal of other buildings constructed on private Palestinian land.

The other announced housing units will be built throughout East Jerusalem, which Israel aims to retain in any future peace agreement but Palestinians consider the capital of their future state.

Israeli settlements have expanded throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last two decades, dividing Palestinian lands and making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible, critics say.

There are more than 500,000 Israelis living in Jewish-only settlements in the West Banks, according to Israeli rights group B’Tselem.

Al Jazeera and wire services

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter