Israel approves new West Bank settlement

UN secretary-general expresses alarm over Israeli plans to build on occupied land

 

UN secretary-general António Guterres is disappointed and alarmed by Israel’s decision to build a new settlement on land the Palestinians want for a state, Mr Guterres’s spokesman said on Friday.

Israel’s security cabinet on Thursday approved the building of the first new settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades, even as prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu negotiates with Washington on curbing settlement activity.

“The secretary-general has consistently stressed that there is no Plan B for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace and security,” UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement.

“He condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-state solution.”

The White House appeared more accommodating of Israel’s plans for the new settlement, which is intended for some 40 families evicted from Amona, a West Bank outpost razed in February because it was built on private Palestinian land.

A White House official noted that Mr Netanyahu had made a commitment to the Amona settlers before Mr Trump and the Israeli leader agreed to work on limiting settlement activity.

Mr Trump, who had been seen by Israelis as sympathetic towards settlements, appeared to surprise Mr Netanyahu during a White House visit last month, when he urged the Israeli leader to “hold back on settlements for a little bit”.

The two then agreed that their aides would try to work out a compromise on how much Israel can build and where.

“The Israeli government has made clear that Israel’s intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes president Trump’s concerns into consideration,” a written statement from the White House official said.

Following Thursday’s announcement, Israeli officials said Mr Netanyahu’s security cabinet decided out of respect for Mr Trump’s peace efforts to limit construction in settlements to existing, built-up areas and not to expand construction beyond present boundaries.

Israel’s decision did not appear to be co-ordinated with Washington.

Talks

US and Israeli officials completed a round of talks on settlements last week without agreement, saying the discussions were ongoing .

Mr Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, this week completed a second trip to the region aimed at reviving peace talks that collapsed in 2014.

Palestinians want the West Bank and East Jerusalem for their own state, along with the Gaza Strip.

Most countries view Israeli settlement activity in these areas as illegal and an obstacle to peace.

Israel disagrees, citing biblical and historical ties to the land it captured in the 1967 war, as well as security concerns.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution in December that demanded a halt to settlement-building.

Reuters