Israel Announces Major Settlement Expansion in East Jerusalem

Announcement, Rebuke of Obama Speech Set Tone for Netanyahu Visit

by Jason Ditz, May 19, 2011

Within hours of President Obama’s speech giving lip-service to the notion of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, Israel’s Interior Ministry held a vote approving a massive expansion of two settlements within occupied East Jerusalem.

East Jerusalem was captured by the Israeli military in 1967. Though their claim has never been recognized, Israel claims the territory is part of an “eternal, undivided capital.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mocked the notion of withdrawing to the 1967 borders around the same time as the vote.

Netanyahu is expected to arrive in the US some time early Friday, but it will likely be the rebuke and especially the Interior Ministry vote that will set the tone. Interestingly enough the Interior Ministry isn’t even under Netanyahu’s Likud Party’s direct control. Rather it is the far-right Shas Party, one of the coalition partners, which holds this ministry.

Though officials within the ministry have repeatedly denied that settlement announcements are in any way “timed” by external events this is far from the first time that such an announcement has come out at a particularly inopportune time for the prime minister. Last March Israel announced a major settlement expansions to coincide with the visit of Vice President Joe Biden, and announced other expansions in the wake of Netanyahu making claims about the prospect of a peace deal.

Though few US politicians will likely make anything of the announcement publicly, it will severely undercut what was supposed to be the expected goal of the Netanyahu visit, which was to convince the US that despite all evidence to the contrary, Israel is not sabotaging the administration’s failing peace efforts.

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