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Netanyahu’s new government includes former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who will take charge of pursuing peace with the Palestinians. But the presence of fiercely pro-settler elements in the coalition, including within the prime minister’s own Likud party, suggests a breakthrough is unlikely.
Israeli settlement expansion lies at the heart of much of the rancour between Netanyahu and Obama, who has said the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement.
Most major powers regard settlements as illegal under international law and an impediment to peace. The Israelis claim historical and biblical ties to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, home to some 500,000 settlers, and dispute their building in these areas is illegal.
All Israeli leaders since 1967 have backed the settlement movement, but Netanyahu has been especially supportive. Yuval Steinitz, who was replaced as finance minister last Friday, said in November that the government had quietly doubled the portion of the national budget dedicated to West Bank settlements.
In December and January, Israel announced plans to build more than 11,000 new houses on land Palestinians want for a future state. Pro-settler politicians have landed several top jobs in the new Netanyahu government, including the housing minister, who has pledged to keep on building.
Many Western diplomats based in Jerusalem privately question whether the so-called two-state solution, of an independent Israel living alongside an independent Palestine, is still viable given the never-ending expansion of settlement blocs.
Israel’s press says Obama has pointedly not invited students from a university in the West Bank settlement of Ariel to attend a speech he is meant to give in Jerusalem this week.