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With West focused on Iran, Netanyahu moves to expand Israeli settlements

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Netanyahu's statement was seized upon by residents here as a possible reprieve from a Supreme Court ruling to demolish six buildings housing 150 people in Ulpana by May 1 so the land could be returned to its Palestinian owners.

''I'm glad Netanyahu is thinking about our issue, I was very nervous we would have to move in the middle of the school year,'' says Alex Traiman, a documentary filmmaker who lives in Ulpana and is a father of three. ''It doesn't seem illegitimate to me to legalize the buildings,'' he says.

The red-roofed, three-story structures – which in recent months have become a pilgrimage site for right-wing politicians – were built 12 years ago. The government offered generous subsidies for people to move there. The homes are hooked up to electricity, sewerage, and phone service and have a good access road with neatly painted white parking spaces. Overlooking a hillside with purple bougainvilleas, the outpost has the feel of a suburban street.

Both the outposts and the more established settlements like Har Homa are seen as illegal by the international community for violating the Fourth Geneva Convention, a stance Israel rejects.

In Mr. Alpher's view, Netanyahu's calculations are straightforward: pleasing his right-wing core constituency and satisfying his own ideological inclinations on the one hand while avoiding severe international condemnations on the other. Because Netanyahu likely does not need to take the latter factor into account  until at least after the US election, Mr. Alpher and other analysts argue, a continuation of the heightened settlement activity announced last week is likely during the months ahead.

''Undoubtedly the focus on Iran also helps him to do what he wants in the West Bank, '' Alpher adds.

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