Amona Israel west bank illegal settlement
A Jewish man covered in a prayer shawl prays in the unauthorised settler outpost of Amona in the West Bank, 18 December 2016 Baz Ratner/Reuters

Israel's security cabinet has approved the building of a new settlement in the occupied West Bank for the first time in 20 years.

The unanimous vote will rehouse settlers from Amona – an outpost first declared illegal under Israeli law in 2006 – to an area called Emek Shilo.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised the settlers of Amona he would move them to a new settlement in February.

However, his decision to back construction of the new outpost still came as a surprise following recent discussions with US President Donald Trump in which he agreed to "hold back" on settlement activity.

Announcing the decision in a statement on Thursday (30 March), Netanyahu said: "I made a promise that we would establish a new settlement ... We will keep it today."

Palestinian officials condemned the move. Hanan Ashrawi, an executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, told Reuters: "Today's announcement once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace."

Against international law

The new settlement is illegal under international law and breaches a recently passed United Nations resolution. However Israel claims it has biblical, historical and political links to the land.

Netanyahu is thought to have backed the settlement in an effort to appease right-wing factions in his coalition and to pre-empt any backlash should the US seek concessions on future developments.

A US source told Haaretz that Netanyahu discussed moving the Amona settlers in his meeting with Trump last month.

Trump, who is seen as sympathetic to Israel, has publicly voiced his concerns about settlements but has done little to condemn new outposts.

The Emek Shilo settlement will be the first since 1999 to be built in the West Bank, where roughly 400,000 Israeli settlers live among 2.8 million Palestinians.