Israel warned approval of West Bank settlements will kill two-state solution


PALESTINIAN negotiator Saeb Erekat has warned that sanctioning more West Bank settlements will kill the two-state solution.

Speaking after an Israeli ministerial committee authorised three illegal West Bank outposts, Mr Erekat called on Israel to choose between settlements and peace. He said the Palestinians would seek a new United Nations security council resolution condemning settlement activity.

Nabil Abu Radainah, a spokesman for president Mahmoud Abbas, accused Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu of “pushing things to a dead end yet again.” Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement pressure group, said the decision marked the first time since 1990 that the government had created new settlements. However, a government official denied this, and explained that the decision merely “formalised the status” of the three communities, addressing technical and procedural issues.

The international community considers all Israeli construction in the West Bank illegal. Israel distinguishes between the 121 established settlements, and scores of illegal outposts, set up without a formal government decision.

The newly-authorised outposts are Bruchin, with some 350 settlers, and Rechelim, with 240 residents, both south of Nablus in the northern West Bank, and Sansana, with a population of 240, in the southern West Bank.

Interior minister Eli Yishai called the decision “important and just,” and he urged the government to legalise more Jewish West Bank communities.

In addition, Mr Netanyahu said he would ask Israel’s supreme court to extend next week’s deadline for demolishing five buildings erected illegally in the settlement of Beit El, north of Jerusalem.

The court had ruled that five buildings, which house 30 families in the Ulpana neighbourhood of Beit El, must be demolished by May 1st because they were built on privately-owned Palestinian land.

Deputy premier Moshe Ya’alon warned that if the demolition went ahead the government will face a coalition crisis. “We said we wouldn’t evacuate the neighbourhood. Should this happen – the government will be dissolved,” he said.

The latest developments followed growing criticism from right-wing coalition partners and from politicians within Mr Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party over the government’s settlement policy.

Earlier this month defence minister Ehud Barak sent troops to evacuate settlers from a Palestinian building they moved into in the divided city of Hebron. Right-wing ministers accused Mr Barak, the most left-wing minister in the coalition, of dictating settlement policy with an agenda of his own.

The question of settlements is the main stumbling block preventing the resumption of direct peace talks between the sides.

Israel has still to reply to last week’s letter from Mr Abbas listing Palestinian conditions for coming back to the negotiating table. The demands included an Israeli settlement construction freeze, but Israel argues that the issue should be decided during the negotiations.