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Israel Rushes To Advance A New Settlement While President Trump Is Still In Office


A Jerusalem hilltop was the scene of a confrontation this morning between Israelis and European diplomats. The controversy was over plans for a new settlement that Israel is advancing in the waning days of the Trump administration. As both sides know, Joe Biden is not expected to support such moves when he's president. NPR's Daniel Estrin was there.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: No, no, I'm used to hiking (laughter). I love hiking.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Fifteen European diplomats scrambled over rocks this morning on a Jerusalem hilltop called Givat Hamatos. Yesterday, Israel invited bids for more than a thousand homes, a new settlement on land Palestinians also claim. A dozen Israeli protesters surrounded the EU group with chants led by Jerusalem's deputy mayor, Arieh King.


ARIEH KING: (Chanting in non-English language).

ESTRIN: The EU's top representative to the Palestinians tried to talk down the protesters.

SVEN KUHN VON BURGSDORFF: Shalom. Shalom. Shalom.

ESTRIN: Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff said, hello; peace, in Hebrew, but he gave up.

VON BURGSDORFF: I will not give a statement under these circumstances. We will move to our cars and then we talk.

ESTRIN: Israel froze plans to build here years ago at President Obama's request. It juts between part of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, where Palestinians hope to have their capital, an independent state. But Miki Zohar, a lawmaker close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted that the planned settlement is, quote, "an opportunity that will not return to strengthen our grip on the land of Israel." Jerusalem Deputy Mayor King worries what the Biden presidency will mean for settlements.

KING: Biden - we don't know so much about him, but he is not Trump. I'm sure about that. He doesn't love us like Trump loved us.

ESTRIN: Israel has accelerated its settlement building plans under Trump. That worries EU Representative von Burgsdorff.

VON BURGSDORFF: Deciding at this critical juncture - meaning after a new president-elect in the U.S. has been voted - gives some observers the impression that the authorities want to create facts on the ground before the new president-elect will take up office.

ESTRIN: In the past, President-elect Biden has spoken out against settlement expansion. European diplomats say they're trying to stop this settlement plan, but a Palestinian man living next to the hilltop doubts they can.

MOHAMMED OTHMAN: The European have no influence in this region. They can object. We can also object, but I don't think that we can influence.

ESTRIN: Eighty-two-year-old retired gynecologist Mohammed Othman (ph) thinks it's too late for a Palestinian state with so many Israeli settlements dotting the land.

OTHMAN: Our situation is very, very, very critical now. The Palestinians - we have nothing. And I think that the whole state will be under Israeli control.

ESTRIN: Ten years ago, Biden was in Jerusalem when Israel announced building plans in another settlement. Biden came late to a dinner with Netanyahu and released a statement condemning the move. Just last week, Israel announced more new homes in that very same settlement that had irked Biden before.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOFT GLAS' "BASIL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.