Through eight years of escalating criticism from the world’s most powerful leader, Israeli construction in these sacred, militarily occupied hills never stopped. Thousands of homes were built. Kilometres of roadway. Restaurants. Shopping centres. A university.
And here in Shiloh, a tourist centre went up, with a welcome video in which the biblical figure Joshua commands the Jewish people to settle the land promised to them by God. Israeli settlements may be illegal in the eyes of the UN Security Council and a major obstacle to Middle East peace in the view of the Obama Administration. But every day they become a more entrenched reality on land that Palestinians say should rightfully belong to them. As the parched beige hilltops fill with red-tiled homes, decades of international efforts to achieve a two-state solution are unravelling.
And global condemnations notwithstanding, the trend is poised to accelerate.
Already, Israel has a right-wing Government that boasts it is more supportive of settlement construction than any in the country’s short history. Within weeks, it will also have as an ally a US president, Donald Trump, who has signalled he could make an extraordinary break with decades of US policy and end American objections to the settlements.
The combination has delighted settlers here and across the West Bank who express hope for an unparalleled building boom that would kill off notions of a Palestinian state once and for all.