European nations condemn Israeli settlement expansion

The move “imperils the viability of a two-state solution to bring about a just and lasting peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said a joint statement by Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Spain.
Friday 16/10/2020
New buildings in the Israeli settlement of Efrat south of the city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank..(AFP)
New buildings in the Israeli settlement of Efrat south of the city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank..(AFP)

BERLIN--European powers on Friday condemned Israel’s decision to approve thousands more settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, calling it a “counterproductive” move that undermines regional peace efforts.

“The expansion of settlements violates international law and further imperils the viability of a two-state solution to bring about a just and lasting peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said a joint statement from the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Spain.

“As we have emphasised directly with the government of Israel, this step furthermore undermines efforts to rebuild trust between the parties with a view to resuming dialogue,” they said, urging an immediate halt in settlement construction.

The ministers said pushing ahead with more settlements would be a “counterproductive move in light of the positive developments of normalisation agreements reached between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain”.

The UAE and Bahrain in mid-September set aside decades of enmity with Israel to sign a US-brokered deal to normalise ties.

Western powers had hoped the deals would bring regional stability and give a boost to hopes for peace.

Israel on Thursday pressed forward on plans for more than 3,000 West Bank settlement homes, making 2020 one of the most prolific years for settlement building, according to a settlement watchdog group.

The Har Gilo settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, south of Jerusalem. ( AFP)
The Har Gilo settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, south of Jerusalem. ( AFP)

Thursday’s approvals, along with more than 2,000 new homes approved a day earlier, are part of a building boom that has gained steam during the US presidency of Donald Trump. It also comes months after Israel promised to put on hold plans to annex parts of the West Bank in exchange for a US-brokered normalisation deal with the United Arab Emirates.

The latest approvals raised the number of settlement homes to be advanced this year to more than 12,150, according to Peace Now, the settlement watchdog group. It is by far the highest number of approvals since Trump took office in early 2017 and the highest since Peace Now began recording the figures in 2012.

Peace Now views the new construction as “de facto annexation,” which threatens the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ahmad Majdalani, a Palestinian cabinet minister, said Netanyahu was working “systematically to end the two-state solution through settlement activities.” He said he believed the wave of approvals this week was in response to concerns that Trump’s challenger, Joe Biden, will likely be less accepting of settlement construction if elected.