Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged his support for the so-called “Greater Jerusalem” bill, which is tantamount to the annexation of 19 illegal settlements in the Jerusalem area, including Maaleh Adumim, where between 125,000 and 150,000 Israeli settlers live.

Maale Adumim is the third largest settlement in population size, encompassing a large swath of land deep inside the occupied West Bank’s Jerusalem district. Many Israelis consider it an Israeli suburban city of Jerusalem, despite it being located on occupied Palestinian territory in contravention of international law.

“Maaleh Adumim will always be part of Israel and, in addition, I support the Greater Jerusalem bill,” The Jerusalem Post quoted Netanyahu as saying during a visit to the illegal settlement Tuesday. “I am also weighing placing Maaleh Adumim within the boundaries of Greater Jerusalem within the context of the Greater Jerusalem bill,” he said.

The legislation, Ma’an further reports, was authored by Likud minister Yisrael Katz who is reportedly expected to bring the bill to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation in the upcoming Knesset session. It would place 19 settlements, including those of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc and Givat Zeev within Israel’s municipal boundaries for Jerusalem.

The Israeli state annexed occupied East Jerusalem in 1980 in a move never recognized by the international community.

According to The Jerusalem Post, the bill would allow the settlers to retain their autonomy but afford them voting rights in the city’s mayoral race. It would meanwhile create “independent municipalities” for some 100,000 Palestinian citizens or residents of Israel who live within Israel’s Jerusalem municipality borders, but are located on the other side of Israel’s illegal separation wall.

These neighborhoods, which have been referred to as a “no man’s land,” have not received proper municipal services since the wall’s construction. While most residents hold Jerusalem residency status and continue to pay taxes to the Israeli government, they are left severely neglected by Israeli authorities, as their neighborhoods are now located on the “West Bank side” of the separation barrier.
Residents now must pass through congested Israeli-controlled checkpoints to reach Jerusalem, while these neighborhoods face increasing problems from an absence of sewage infrastructure and other basic services traditionally provided by the Jerusalem municipality, including waste collection services, healthcare, and education assistance.

“We will intensify the momentum to develop Maaleh Adumim. We will build thousands of housing units here. We will add the necessary industrial areas and the expansion necessary to enable the accelerated development of this place. This place will be part of the State of Israel, ” Netanyahu continued in his remarks.

The Israeli premier further stated that he would advance plans for 4,000 new homes in settlements in the occupied West Bank after the Jewish holidays.

During the visit to Maaleh Adumin, Netanyahu also took the opportunity to address the reactivation of the Palestinian National Consensus Government and ongoing reconciliation talks with rival factions Fateh and Hamas.

“We expect everyone who talks about a peace process to recognize the State of Israel and, of course, to recognize a Jewish state and we are not prepared to accept bogus reconciliations in which the Palestinian side apparently reconciles at the expense of our existence.

“Whoever wants to make such a reconciliation, our understanding is very clear: Recognize the State of Israel, disband the Hamas military arm, sever the connection with Iran, which calls for our destruction, and so on and so forth. Even these very clear things must be clearly stated,” he said.

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary General Saeb Erekat said in a statement Wednesday saying that now that Palestinian political reconciliation was underway, it was “time for Israel to abide by international law and to recognize the right of the State of Palestine to exist,” noting that the Palestine National Council has recognized the State of Israel.

“Some in Israel and the United States have called on Hamas to recognize Israel. Instead, Israel and the United States should recognize the State of Palestine on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is the way to achieve the ultimate deal with the State of Israel to live side by side the State of Palestine in peace and security,” Erekat said.

Observers have attributed a increase in visits by Netanyahu to illegal settlements since Donald Trump was sworn in as US president in January. Since Trump took office — and despite requests by the US president to hold back on settlement building — an emboldened Netanyahu government has pushed forward with a steady stream of announcements on settlement building.

In a recent interview with Israeli media, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman — who has been vocal in his support for Israeli settlements and his unflinching support for the Israeli government — referred to Israel’s presence in the West Bank as an “alleged occupation,” and said that settlements are “only occupying 2 percent of the West Bank” and that he considers them part of Israel.

Palestinian officials were quick to condemn Friedman for the remarks as disconnected from reality, with Erekat describing the assertions as “not only false and misleading but contradict international law, United Nations resolutions and also the historical US position.

“Israel is internationally recognized as the occupying power over 100 percent of Palestine, including in and around Occupied East Jerusalem. Such positions undermine ongoing efforts towards achieving a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine on the 1967 border,” he said.

PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi also slammed the US ambassador for his “blatant bias” toward Israel.

“The US Ambassador to Israel has proved once again that he is completely removed from reality. In addition to his long-standing support for Israeli settlements, and after referring to the ‘alleged occupation’ of Palestinian land, he has the audacity to maintain that Israel occupies only 2 percent of the West Bank and that illegal settlements that carve, annex, and steal Palestinian land are part of Israel,” she said.

Ashrawi said Friedman’s positions “are a mirror reflection of the settlers’ ideology in Israel’s right-wing coalition government rather than that of successive Administrations that have claimed to be invested in peace,” affirming that, “The occupation exists. Settlements are illegal under international law and constitute a war crime. These facts and realities are not in question.”

The proposed Greater Jerusalem bill also comes as the Israeli government has advanced a plan to forcibly expel the Palestinian Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, under threat of relocation for being located in the contentious “E1 corridor” set up by the Israeli government to link annexed East Jerusalem with Maale Adumim.

Israeli rights group B’Tselem slammed the Israeli government for the plan in a letter to Netanyahu, saying that such a move would constitute a “war crime.”

(PNN archive image)

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