The UK, France and Germany on Friday condemned the Israeli security cabinet’s unanimous approval on Thursday to build the first officially sanctioned new settlement in the West Bank in more than 20 years.
The new settlement late was approved late on Thursday for the evacuees of the illegal Amona outpost, which was razed last month after the High Court of Justice ruled that it was built on private Palestinian land. The new settlement will be built next to Shilo.
The cabinet on Thursday also announced the approval of tenders for some 2,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank — housing units whose planned construction, among some 5,500, was first announced in January.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in a statement: “These announcements are contrary to international law and seriously undermine the prospects of two states for two peoples. As a strong friend of Israel, and one prepared to stand up for Israel when it faces bias and unreasonable criticism, I urge Israel not to take steps such as these, which move us away from our shared goal of peace and security and make it harder to achieve a different relationship between Israel and the Arab world.
Johnson added that he was “disappointed that Israel plans to expropriate additional West Bank territory as ‘state land’, and press forward with plans for almost 2,000 housing units in spite of significant international concern.”
The French Foreign Ministry said Israel’s announcements were “extremely worrying” and that Paris “firmly condemns these decisions that threaten peace and risk exacerbating tensions on the ground.”
“France reiterates that settlements are illegal under international law, notably under Resolution 2334 of the UN Security Council. It calls on Israel to respect its international obligation,” the statement read, in reference to the controversial resolution passed in December, with a US abstention, which labeled Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem “illegal.”
A German government spokesperson cited by Haaretz said that “the federal government expects the Israeli government to clarify which solution they are pursuing for a lasting peace with the Palestinians. Germany will not recognize any change in the 1967 lines, which has not been agreed between the parties
According to Haaretz, the three European papers published their condemnation statements in close proximity and timed the statements to come out at the same time.
Earlier Friday, the United Nations also expressed its disapproval of the newly planned settlement with a spokesman for UN chief Antonio Guterres saying the secretary-general expressed “disappointment and alarm” at the announcement.
“The secretary general has consistently stressed that there is no Plan B for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace and security. He condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-state solution,” Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
The Palestinians reacted furiously to the plans.
PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said in a statement on Friday that the Palestinians will “hold Benjamin Netanyahu and his extremist government fully responsible for the consequences of such violations.”
“We send a clear message to the US administration, the United Nations and to the European Union: Peace is not going to be achieved by tolerating such crimes,” he added.
Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said the move showed the government was pushing ahead with “their systematic policies of settler colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing, showing a total and blatant disregard for Palestinian human rights.”
The White House, meanwhile, warned Israel against “unrestrained” settlement activity, cautioning that “while the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace,” according to an official.
But the Trump administration did say it welcomed Netanyahu’s announcement Thursday, after the approval of the new settlement, that Israel will curb construction in West Bank settlements as a goodwill gesture to US President Donald Trump.
Israel’s announcement of a new policy of restraint in settlement expansion was well-orchestrated.
On Thursday morning, during a meeting with the Slovak president, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that later in the day the cabinet would greenlight a new West Bank settlement for the evacuees of Amona, an illegal outpost dismantled in February. “I promised at the outset that we would build a new community. I believe that I first gave that promise back in December and we will uphold it today,” he said.
At 10:25 p.m., the Prime Minister’s Office announced that the cabinet had indeed decided, in a unanimous vote, to create the first new officially sanctioned West Bank settlement in some 25 years. The announcement came just in time to make the Friday morning newspapers.
But once the papers’ deadlines had passed — at 1:21 a.m. — Israeli reporters were informed that the government had also decided to “significantly restrain” the expansion of settlements beyond their current boundaries, in a nod to the US administration’s concerns regarding settlement construction.
The timing of that announcement guaranteed that no newspaper would mention that important caveat in its reports on the first new settlement in decades, thus dramatically decreasing the chance of it becoming a topic for discussion at Shabbat dinner tables around the country on Friday evening.
Israel’s “new policy,” as the government itself called it, is a far cry from the “not one brick policy” of former US president Barack Obama, who vehemently opposed any settlement construction beyond the 1967 lines, including in Jerusalem neighborhoods that will remain under Israeli sovereignty in any conceivable peace agreement.
Indeed, the new arrangement allows Israel, in theory, to expand any settlement it wishes, anywhere in the West Bank, under the condition that the construction does not expand an existing settlement’s “footprint.” The cabinet also said that no new settlements — besides the one to compensate the evacuees of Amona, announced earlier on Thursday — would be built.
Likud ministers on Friday morning defended the new policy, stressing that no settlement would be uprooted and that Israel would be allowed to build anywhere in its eternal united capital of Jerusalem. That was to be expected, since it was the leader of their party who was behind the new policy.
But even the pro-settlement Yesha Council accepted the new framework without protest. “The understandings reached between the government of Israel and the US administration allow for the continuation of settlement construction in all communities in Judea and Samaria, in addition to the establishment of a new community for the residents of Amona,” the group said in a statement.
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