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ILLEGAL settlements have surged in occupied East Jerusalem since Donald Trump became US president in 2017, according to new statistics which highlight decades of systematic discrimination against Palestinians.
The expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, which Israel seized along with the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 six-day war, threatens to further complicate one of the thorniest issues in the conflict.
Refusal by the authorities to grant building permits to Palestinian residents means they are stuck in overcrowded and poorly serviced neighbourhoods.
Around half the Palestinian population is believed to be at risk of having their homes demolished to make way for the expanding illegal Israeli settlement programme.
The data was acquired by the settlement watchdog Peace Now but it took a two-year battle with the municipality for them to release the figures.
Statistics show that while Palestinians make up more than 60 per cent of the population in East Jerusalem, they have received just 30 per cent of the building permits issued since 1991.
Peace Now found that during Mr Trump’s first two years in office, authorities approved 1,861 housing units in East Jerusalem settlements, a 60 per cent increase from the 1,162 approved in the previous two years.
The future of Jerusalem is at the centre of a decades-long conflict and is deemed central to peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. It is a sacred site for Christians, Jews and Muslims.
In 1980 Israel officially annexed East Jerusalem in a move condemned by the international community and deemed “null and void” by the United Nations.
Peace Now’s figures show that since 1991, the municipality has issued 21,834 permits for housing units in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and just 9,536 for Palestinian neighborhoods.
This forces many Palestinians to build homes illegally, but they are often ordered to destroy them by the authorities.
But Jihad Rajabi, who lives in the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina, explained that he wasn’t given the option of destroying his own home.
Authorities showed up one morning last month with police and heavy equipment forcing his family of 15 to leave as they demolished their home.
“They are trying to drive us out of Jerusalem,” he said. “They fine us, they try to drive us out, but we’re going to stay here.”
Mr Trump inflamed tensions in the region in 2017 when he unilaterally declared the US was moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognising the contested city as the capital of Israel.
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