Data shows Israeli settlements boosted after Trump election

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s government went on a spending binge in its West Bank settlements following the election of President Donald Trump, according to official data obtained by The Associated Press.

Both supporters and detractors of the settlement movement have previously referred to a “Trump effect”, claiming the president’s friendlier approach to the settlements is leading to additional West Bank construction.

While the new Israeli figures obtained in a freedom of information request do not prove a direct connection, they indicate this process may already be underway, showing a 39 per cent increase in 2017 spending on roads, schools and public buildings across the West Bank.

Hagit Ofran, a researcher with the anti-settlement monitoring group Peace Now, said it appears that Trump’s election has emboldened Israel’s pro-settler government.

“They are not shy anymore with what they are doing,” she said. “They feel more free to do whatever they want.”

Houses in the Israeli settlement of Ariel, in the central West Bank. – AP

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, offered even sharper criticism. “This proves that the current US administration encouraged settlement activities,” he said.

Since capturing the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war, Israel has settled some 700,000 of its citizens in the two areas, which are considered occupied territory by most of the world. The international community has objected to Israel’s moving people into settlements in those territories as both illegal and a deliberate obstacle to any future Palestinian state.

The Palestinians, who claim both the West Bank and east Jerusalem as parts of their future state, consider the settlements illegal land grabs. Scores of fast-growing settlements control strategic hilltops and swaths of the West Bank, making it increasingly difficult to partition the territory.

For decades, the international community and the United States (US) have expressed concern over the settlements while doing little to halt their construction. But since taking office, Trump, whose inner circle of Mideast advisers have longstanding ties to the settler movement, has taken a different approach. The White House has urged restraint but refrained from the blanket condemnations of its Republican and Democratic predecessors.

“The Trump administration is undoubtedly the most friendly American administration of all time,” said Oded Revivi, the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha settlers’ council. “In contrast, the Obama years were extremely hard for Israel. Now we are making up for lost ground.”

The government statistics, released by Israel’s Finance Ministry, showed Israeli spending in the West Bank in 2017, Trump’s first year in office, rose to 1.65 billion shekels, or USD459.8 million, from 1.19 billion shekels in 2016.