Friday, July 03, 2020

International community condemns new Israeli settlement expansion plans

By Jan Walraven - March 26, 2014
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Peace Process] [Settlement Expansion] [negotiations]

On Wednesday 19 March Israeli authorities published plans to build more than 2,300 new settler homes in eight different illegal West Bank settlements.  The announcement, condemned by both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the international community, has added more pressure on the already faltering peace talks.

The announced 2,372 new houses have not yet received full approval for construction, still having to pass through some bureaucratic processes. However, The Jerusalem Post reported that the plans for 296 new units in Beit El, 694 in Alei Zahav and 31 in Almog have been “approved for validation” and are very close to finalization. 

Next to these three settlements, expansion plans have been "approved for deposit" in Ariel (839), Shiloh (353) and Shavei Shomron (65), while plans for expansion have been deposited for Kochav Ya’acov (38) and Givat Ze’ev (56). All these plans are still awaiting the final approval of the Israeli Ministry of Defence.

The announcement nevertheless is another clear signal from the current Israeli government that it is is not willing to stop its settlement expansion efforts, as demanded by both the international community and the Palestinian Authority. 

Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal according to international law. The illegality of the settlement enterprise is universally recognized, Israel, however, contests their legitimacy. Currently, about 550,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

PA and international community react

Ma'an News Agency quoted Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesperson for PA President Abbas, on Friday 21 March, saying that Israel's settlement activity has "led the peace talks to an impasse." The continuing settlement expansion is one of the main reasons behind the PA’s refusal to extend the current round of peace talks.

In an official response to the announcement, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton said the EU was "deeply disappointed by the Israeli plans to expand settlements." Ashton added that "any unilateral action prejudging final status issues threatens the current peace negotiations," warning that this "historic opportunity" to reach peace "should not be squandered." 

"This development is particularly unhelpful against the backdrop of a volatile situation on the ground and as US-led peace negotiations have reached a critical stage,” said Robert Serry, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, in a statement issued in Jerusalem on Saturday 22 March. Serry also stated that the illegal settlements "cannot be reconciled with Israel's stated intention to pursue a two-state solution."

The U.K. Minister for the Middle East Hugh Robertson condemned the decision in a press release, repeating his country's longstanding position on settlements: "settlements are illegal under international law, undermine trust and threaten the viability of the two-state solution." 

On Monday 17 March Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama to discuss the current round of peace talks, and thus, also the Israeli settlements. Obama has recognized in the past that the continuing construction of settlements is illegal and one of the main obstacles for peace.

After the meeting, Saed Erekat, the main Palestinian negotiator, said that Abbas showed Obama a "very ugly map" of recent Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, The Guardian reported. The map showed 10,589 new housing units, built since the renewal of negotiations about eight months ago. 

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