Expanding West Bank settlements test Biden visit

STORY: Steps away from a cluster of Palestinian tents and shacks in the northern Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, trucks are preparing for the construction of an Israeli school…

The settlement of Mehola is trying to keep up with surging demand, says resident Zohar Zror.

"Currently, Mehola is really trying to expand, the demand here is very high, and this wasn't the case during the past years."

Israeli settlements are expanding across the occupied West Bank, further aggravating fears of displacement among Palestinians and posing a test for the U.S. ahead of President Joe Biden’s visit this week.

Biden said Saturday in a Washington Post op-ed, that the U.S. has rebuilt ties with the Palestinians and worked with Congress to restore about $500 million in support.

Biden has also pledged to reopen a consulate in the Palestinian part of East Jerusalem closed by his predecessor Donald Trump and expressed strong opposition to Israeli settlement expansion.

But that has done little to satisfy Palestinian demands for more U.S. support.

A Bedouin man, Atallah Melihat, expressed such a sentiment to Reuters.

"Biden wants to help the Jews, he doesn't want to help us. They want to expel us from this area. They are all against us, Biden and Israel."

Many countries regard settlements Israel has built on territory it captured in a 1967 Middle East war as illegal...

Israel disputes this and has settled some 440,000 Israelis in the West Bank, citing biblical, historical and political ties to the area, where three million Palestinians live under military rule.

Biden’s opposition to Israeli expansion has done little to stop it.

In May, the Israeli government approved 4,400 new homes for Jewish settlers.

Critics of the Israeli settlements say they slice through territory Palestinians hope will one day be a part of an independent Palestinian state.

Some proponents say that’s exactly the point of the project.

David Elhayani is the outgoing head of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization of Jewish settlement councils in the West Bank.

"Biden’s visit is short, mostly aimed probably at discussing the Iranians. In the margins, there will be the Palestinians. I’m not worried about Biden’s visit, nor that it will harm the settlement project in Judea and Samaria, and the Jordan Valley. The settlement enterprise has taken off, it cannot be stopped.”

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment about the expansion of West Bank settlements.

Israel continues to reject accusations from human rights groups that the settlement enterprise has created a system of apartheid.