Israel revived plans on Wednesday to build 500 new homes for Jewish
settlers in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, an ominous sign for Palestinians
wary of a Donald Trump presidency, an NGO said.

“The political significance of this action is that it
is the first plan to be promoted since the US elections,” Betty Herschman
from the Ir Amim NGO said.

The plan for 500 housing units in Ramat Shlomo, an
ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood in east Jerusalem of around 20,000, had
been on hold since 2014, Ir Amim said.

The Jerusalem municipality downplayed the significance of
the new housing units, saying the plans were “not new and were approved
years ago.”

Nevertheless, the announcement is likely to be interpreted
by some as a first step in Israel expanding its settlements in the wake of Trump’s
upset election victory.

Israeli right-wingers hailed his triumph as ushering in an
administration far less critical of settlement expansion than that of outgoing
President Barack Obama’s.

The president-elect’s adviser on Israel, David Friedman, said last month that he does not believe Trump sees Jewish settlements in
the occupied West Bank as illegal.

One Israeli minister said Trump’s win meant “the era of
a Palestinian state is over” while Meir Turjeman, chairman of the Jerusalem
municipality planning committee, told public radio earlier in November that it
meant suspended permits in east Jerusalem would be given the green light.

He said the municipality intended to authorise thousands of
housing units that had been frozen.

The international community considers all settlements
illegal and sees them as one of the largest obstacles to peace between Israel
and the Palestinians.

Ahead of Wednesday’s announcement France said the planned
constructions would be “illegal.”

“The unabated continuation of the settlement policy
only serves to increase tensions on the ground and undermines the prospects for
achieving a just and lasting peace,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

More than 200,000 Israelis now live in east Jerusalem, as
part of a wider community of around 600,000 settlers in all the occupied
Palestinian territories.

The municipality did not respond on Wednesday to the suggestion
that the construction plans were related to events in the US.

While many on the Israeli right are looking forward to
President Trump’s inauguration in January, they are also wary of what Obama may
do in his final days in office.

Obama’s administration has expressed mounting anger over
Israeli settlement policy and speculation has grown that he could launch a
final initiative before leaving. Obama has had frosty personal relations with
Netanyahu throughout his two-term presidency.