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Israel starts work on new settlement, even as U.S. steps up peace efforts


Reuters

UPDATE 1-Israel starts work on new settlement, even as U.S. steps up peace efforts


* New settlement, approved in March, first since 1999
    * Trump senior adviser Kushner due in Israel Wednesday
    * Kushner to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects
    * Palestinians say Israel out to scupper new U.S. peace bid

 (Adds U.S. envoy meets Netanyahu, finance minister quotes)
    By Jeffrey HellerJERUSALEM, June 20 (Reuters) - Israel broke ground on
Tuesday on its first new settlement in  the occupied West Bank
for two decades, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said,
announcing the symbolic move on the eve of a peace mission by
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner.
    "Work began today on-site, as I promised, to establish the
new settlement," Netanyahu wrote on his Twitter feed, which
included a photograph of mechanical equipment digging into a
rocky field.
    He was referring to the construction of Amichai, which will
house some 300 settlers evicted in February from the Amona
outpost after Israel'sSupreme Court ruled their homes had been
built illegally on privately-owned Palestinian land.
    By highlighting the earth-moving work - no date has been
announced for actual housing construction - Netanyahu appeared
to suggest he believed he had little to fear from U.S. President
Donald Trump's administration over settlement building that has
drawn Palestinian and international condemnation.
    During a meeting at the White House in February, Trump asked
Netanyahu to "hold back on settlements for a little bit", a
request seen as part of an effort to build trust with the
Palestinians ahead of a renewed push for peace.
    The White House said on Sunday that Kushner, Trump's
son-in-law, would arrive in Israel on Wednesday. Jason
Greenblatt, a top U.S. national security aide met with Netanyahu
on Tuesday, a few hours after his announcement about work
starting at the site of the new settlement.
    Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas, called the ground-breaking "a grave escalation
and an attempt to foil efforts by the American administration to
revive negotiations", especially (before) the arrival of the
U.S. envoys".

    LENGTHY PROCESS
    Kushner and Greenblatt will sound out both sides "about
their priorities and potential next steps" as part of Trump's
attempt to revive peace talks that collapsed in 2014, a White
House official said.
    But the official said any peace deal "will take time" and
likely require "many visits by both Mr. Kushner and Mr.
Greenblatt" to the region.
    Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said the U.S. push to
revive the peace process appeared to be a serious effort.
    "There is huge pressure from the United States to advance
this political process," Kahlon said during an on-stage
interview at a conference in Herzliya. "Something is happening,
but I can't say peace is around the corner."
    Palestinians regard settlements, around 200 of which have
been built over the past 50 years on occupied land that they
seek for a state, as obstacles to a viable and contiguous
country. Around 400,000 Israelis now live in West Bank
settlements, among around 2.8 million Palestinians.
    When Trump visited Jerusalem on May 22-23, he studiously
avoided any mention of settlements, at least in public.
    Israel decided in March to build Amichai, which means "My
People Live", and in recent weeks it has approved plans for more
than 3,000 settler homes elsewhere in the West Bank.
    Most countries view settlements that Israel has built on
land captured in the June 1967 Middle East war as illegal.
Israel disputes that, citing biblical, historical and political
links to the West Bank, as well as security interests.
    The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip, with its capital in East Jerusalem, and also
claim historical and political links to the land.
    Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and the territory is now
ruled by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

 (Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; editing by
Mark Heinrich)
 ((jeffrey.heller@thomsonreuters.com; +97226322202;))

Keywords: ISRAEL PALESTINIANS/USA (UPDATE 1, TV, PIX)



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