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Netanyahu accepts Trump invitation after settlement decision

January 22, 2017

"The rules of the game have changed with Donald Trump," the city's mayor declared after approving the homes. Benjamin Netanyahu had delayed a vote on the homes until the end of Barack Obama's presidency.

Symbolbild Israel genehmigt 464 Siedlung Häuser in West Bank
Image: Getty Images/AFP/T. Coex

Israeli authorities approved building permits for 566 new homes in east Jerusalem settlements, city officials announced on Sunday.

The approvals came just two days after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, who had vowed during his election campaign to provide strong support for Israel .

"The rules of the game have changed with Donald Trump's arrival as president," the city's deputy mayor Meir Turjeman told the AFP news agency.

"We no longer have our hands tied as in the time of Barack Obama. Now we can finally build."

People dine at a coffee shop as an image of newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump is displayed on a monitor in Tel Aviv
Donald Trump campaigned strongly in favor of IsraelImage: Reuters/B. Ratner

Turjeman said plans for 11,000 other homes in East Jerusalem were also being processed, but he did not say when they would move forward.

In December Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponed a Jerusalem city council vote on issuing the permits after the US allowed the passing of a highly critical resolution by the United Nations Security Council.

It demanded "Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem." Netanyahu refused to back down from settlement construction, despite the December resolution, and issued a series of diplomatic retributions.

Trump chastised then-US President Barack Obama's administration for abstaining from the vote, and the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bipartisan measure declaring unwavering support for Israel and condemning the UN stance on Jewish settlements.

Trump's new ambassador to Israel had close ties to West Bank developments and was reportedly hostile to a two-state solution.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power raises her hand to indicate the US's abstention in the vote
The US broke tradition and abstained from a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, allowing it to passImage: picture-alliance/Zumapress/A. Lohr-Jones

Netanyahu to call Trump

President Trump and Netanyahu spoke later on Sunday to discuss an invitation to the prime minister to visit the White House in early February, which Netanyahu announced he had accepted. Ahead of the call, Netanyahu had said he also planned to discuss the conflict with the Palestinians, Syria and "the Iranian threat."

Netanyahu had strongly opposed the nuclear deal between Iran and global powers, including the US, which Trump had also been critical of in his campaign.

Chairman of Jerusalem city hall's Planning and Building committee, Meir Turgeman, told Israel Radio the permits had been delayed until Obama left office.

It wasn't immediately clear whether the new homes needed further approvals before construction could begin.

The approved homes were in the neighborhoods of Pisgat Zeev, Ramot and Ramat Shlomo, according to Turjeman, who also headed the planning committee that approved them.

 "We've been through eight tough years with Obama pressuring to freeze construction. Although the Jerusalem municipality has not frozen plans, many times we did not get government approval because of American pressure," Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Sunday.

"I hope that era is over and we now we can build and develop Jerusalem for the welfare of its residents, Jews and Arabs alike." 

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the plans and called on the UN to take action.  

"It is time to stop dealing with Israel as a state above the law," he said.
Earlier in January more than 70 countries, including the US, gathered in Paris to discuss the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Netanyahu slammed the meet as "rigged" against his country.

aw/rc (AFP, Reuters, AP)