Israel approval of 2,300 new West Bank units condemned by EU

Brussels says ‘settlement activity is illegal’ and ‘erodes viability of the two-state solution’

Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim in the occupied West Bank on the outskirts of Jerusalem: most of the international community considers such settlements illegal. Photograph: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP

Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim in the occupied West Bank on the outskirts of Jerusalem: most of the international community considers such settlements illegal. Photograph: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP

 

The European Union has criticised Israel’s decision to approve the construction of more than 2,000 housing units in West Bank settlements.

“All settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace,” the EU said in a statement, decrying what it described as “repeated confiscations, demolitions, displacements and land expropriation” aimed at Palestinians.

Of the 2,304 settler homes approved by Israel’s Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria, 1,466 units were “deposited”, which means they are in the initial stages of discussion, and 838 were “validated”, which means they were given final planning permission.

According to anti-settlement NGO Peace Now, 70 per cent of the new homes will be in isolated communities outside of the main West Bank settlement blocs, which Israel hopes to annex as part of a comprehensive peace agreement.

Peace Now noted that a few weeks ago Israel destroyed 72 Palestinian homes in an east Jerusalem village because of their proximity to Israel’s West Bank security barrier but the new plans include an entire new neighbourhood for settlers adjoining the barrier.

Among the plans approved were three projects in wildcat outposts, built without government approval, granting the illegal hilltop communities retroactive legalisation.

Uprooting pledge

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu pledged before the April election to annex West Bank settlements but provided no details. Earlier this week during a visit to the large settlement of Efrat, south of Bethlehem, he vowed that no settler or settlement would be uprooted as long as he remained prime minister.

Last week, Israel’s security cabinet issued rare approval for 700 Palestinian housing units to be built in Area C – the part of the West Bank that is under Israel’s military and administrative control – while also approving 6,000 homes for settlers.

The latest construction push was welcomed by settler leaders, who have in the past expressed scepticism over the government’s commitment to boost the Jewish population beyond the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 border. Shlomo Neeman, head of the Etzion bloc regional council, south of Bethlehem, said in response that, “this is huge news for the southeast of Etzion bloc, to Jewish settlements in the Judean desert and to the entire settlement movement”.

United Nations special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process Nickolay Mladenov added his voice to the international criticism of Israel, saying in a statement “the expansion of settlements has no legal effect and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law”.

Whereas most of the international community considers settlements illegal, the administration of US president Donald Trump has adopted a much more conciliatory position, with special envoy Jason Greenblatt referring to West Bank settlements as “neighbourhoods and cities”.