Within hours of Donald J. Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States, Israeli government officials announced the approval of 566 construction permits for new homes in East Jerusalem.
“Now we can finally build,” Meir Turgeman, Jerusalem Deputy Major told media hours after Trump was sworn in. “I was told to wait until Trump takes office because he has no problem with building in Jerusalem.”
Israeli “settlement construction” has long been a contentious diplomatic issue. UN Resolution 2334, the recent Security Council resolution allowed to pass in the waning days of the Obama administration, forcefully condemned recent Israeli building activity as possessing “no legal validity” and constituting “a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”
It further “condemned” all “measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements.”
Although the resolution did not call for anything new—UN endorsed versions of the “two-state solution” have long called for the creation of an independent Palestinian state within Israel for years—it was the fact that the Obama administration abstained from exercising their veto power that infuriated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The resolution is distorted. It states that the Jewish quarter and the Western Wall are occupied, which is absurd,” said Netanyahu on December 24th, referencing the resolution’s explicit mention of Jewish holy sites in East Jerusalem. The Western Wall is the only remaining part of ancient Israel’s Second Temple, and is therefore considered the most holy site in Judaism.
Whereas the international community, including the United States, has publicly admonished Israel for building on land they believe will constitute a future Palestinian state, the Israeli government has long maintained that Jerusalem is the eternal, undivided capitol of Israel and will not be part of any deal with the Palestinians. East Jerusalem was formerly occupied by Jordan from 1948-1967 before being liberated during the “Six Days War.”
With promises including moving the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—a promise that previous U.S. Presidents made but failed to deliver after assuming office—Trump has signaled a more favorable U.S. policy toward Israel.
Thus the announcement of increased building activity in East Jerusalem following the inauguration is a sign of emboldened Israeli leadership optimistic about the approach of the new administration.