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As U.S. Tolerates Israeli Settlements, More Homes Are Planned For The West Bank


Israel says it plans to build thousands of new homes for Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank. Most countries denounce Israeli settlements, and the U.N. Security Council disapproves. The settlements are spread across land that Palestinians demand for their own state. And a watchdog group says there's been a, quote, "building frenzy in the settlements since President Trump took office." NPR's Daniel Estrin has been visiting those areas. He's on the line. Hi there, Daniel.


INSKEEP: Where have you been?

ESTRIN: Well, this morning I was in a small Palestinian village. It's called Nahalin, and it's a really good place to see how Palestinians view the settlements being built or the settlement homes being built. And we saw that this morning. Across the valley is Beitar Illit. It's one of the biggest Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and it's growing. We saw the tractors. We heard the sounds of piercing the bedrock. They're building a new neighborhood on the edge of the settlement. And it's just one of three settlements that surround the village where Israel last week announced that it's planning new housing.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that new housing. How big are these construction plans?

ESTRIN: Israel says it's building more than 2,000 new homes in existing settlements. And Peace Now, the anti-settlement watchdog group you spoke about, says, we can expect to see some of this construction starting as early as in a year. And what they say is - what's happening is very clear. They say since Trump became president, Israel has advanced big construction plans in the settlements. And that's a big difference from the last years of the Obama administration.

INSKEEP: Although, we should note, they built settlements under President Obama - or not under but during the administration of President Obama. They built settlements under the administration of President Trump. It sounds like the Israeli government attitude here is to proceed regardless.

ESTRIN: That's true. And even the building that I saw today across the valley are homes that were approved, assumably, under the Obama administration. It takes some years before you actually see groundbreaking. But yes, the idea here, especially among the settler community, is they feel that under Trump - you know, what was a yellow light to build under Obama is now a very big green light.

INSKEEP: Why is this significant in the long term, Daniel?

ESTRIN: Well, settlements, Steve, are really at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As you said, they're spread out across the West Bank. That is where Palestinians live. It's where Palestinians want to create their own independent state. And around the world, most countries want to see Israel give up West Bank land so Palestinians can have their own state there. And they say this is really the only way that can be - there can be a solution to the conflict. And the more Israel builds up its settlements, the more entrenched Israel becomes there.

INSKEEP: And we should note, I suppose, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been talking about granting the Palestinians something less than a state at this point.

ESTRIN: Yes. He's been very - he hasn't - he says he won't define it as a state. You know, that's the term that he may have talked about in the past. But he says he wants Palestinians at some point in the future to be able to control their own lives. But he won't call it a state. He said state-minus, even.

INSKEEP: OK. Daniel, thanks for the update - really appreciate it.

ESTRIN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin, who's been traveling on the West Bank. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.