Hebron has been divided into two parts since 1998: one part controls the Palestinian Authority, the other Israel. In the middle of the city with about 210,000 Palestinians live about 800 Israeli settlers. Because of the presence of settlers and soldiers, Palestinians were forced to give up their businesses and homes in the city center.
Now the Israeli government wants to further expand its settlements there: in the middle of the divided city, a new Jewish quarter is to be created. Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced construction plans for the site on a Palestinian wholesale market closed since 1994.
According to Bennett's plan, the buildings on the market are to be demolished and rebuilt. However, the Palestinian shops on the ground floor should remain in place and the rights of the owners should not be affected, the statement said.
The new district should create a territorial connection between the Jewish quarter of Avraham Avinu and the patriarchal tombs in Hebron, as well as double the number of Israeli settlers in the city. Until a massacre of an Arab crowd of 67 Jews in Hebron in 1929, the market had been in Jewish possession.
The Patriarch's Tombs are sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims – and today are divided into a mosque and a synagogue.
The Israeli authorities had closed the Palestinian wholesale market, the site of constant confrontation of Israeli settlers with the Palestinian majority, after the February 1994 Goldstein massacre. The extremist settler Baruch Goldstein had shot 29 praying Muslims in the Patriarch's Tomb.
The Israeli peace organization Peace Now criticized the decision. A new Jewish district in Hebron will "inflict serious moral, security and legal damage on Israel," said spokeswoman Chagit Ofran.
In addition to the status of the divided city of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, the settlements are seen as an obstacle to a two-state solution, in which Israel is to become an independent state of Palestine. In December 2016, the United Nations last called for a resolution calling for an immediate halt to settlement expansion.
More details about Israeli settlements in the West Bank can be found here.