The Palestinian leadership on Tuesday condemned the approval of 2,500 homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as “land theft and colonialism,” and said Israel’s announced settlement expansion was encouraged by the administration of US President Donald Trump.
“Once again, the Israeli government has proved that it is more committed to land theft and colonialism than to the two-state solution and the requirements for peace and stability,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said in a statement.
“Such a deliberate escalation of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise constitutes a war crime and the flagrant violation of international law and conventions, in particular UN Security Council resolution 2334,” she said, referring to an anti-settlement resolution passed by the UN Security Council last month.
“It is evident that Israel is exploiting the inauguration of the new American administration to escalate its violations and the prevention of any existence of a Palestinian state,” she said.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called on the international community to “hold Israel accountable immediately” and similarly claimed the Israeli government was encouraged by the Trump administration.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman earlier Tuesday announced the construction of the 2,502 homes, most of them in existing settlement blocs it hopes to keep in a future peace deal with the Palestinians. The announcement came two days after a Jerusalem planning committee approved the construction of 566 housing units in East Jerusalem.
The settlement expansion comes less than a week after the inauguration of Donald Trump, who brought to power a new administration seen as sympathetic to Israel’s settlement movement. The founder of Beit El, Yaakov Katz, told Israeli radio last month that Trump made a $10,000 donation to the West Bank settlement in 2003. The donation, Katz said, was in honor of Trump’s friend David Friedman, who is to become the new US ambassador to Israel.
The European Union also responded critically to Tuesday’s announcement, branding it a “regrettable” move that would further undermine prospects of negotiating regional peace agreement.
“It is regrettable that Israel is proceeding with this policy, despite the continuous serious international concern and objections, which have been constantly raised at all levels,” a statement from the EU said.
“A negotiated two-state solution is the only way to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of both parties and to achieve enduring peace,” the statement said, citing December’s Security Council resolution.
The United Nations denounced Israeli initiatives to accelerate settlement construction in Palestinian territory on Tuesday, stressing that “unilateral actions” are an obstacle to peace based on a two-state solution.
“For the secretary general there is no ‘plan B’ for the two-states solution,” UN chief Antonio Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. “In this respect any unilateral decision that can be an obstacle to the two state goal is of grave concern for the secretary general.
Dujarric said the UN’s position on settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem “has not changed.”
The announcement also garnered criticism from liberal US Jewish group J Street, which said Israel appears to have free rein from the US government.
“The Israeli government’s approval today of 2,500 new housing units in the West Bank is highly dangerous, reflecting its sense that it now has carte blanche from the new American president for unlimited settlement expansion,” a J Street statement said.
Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog joined the chorus of international criticism, warning that continued settlement building posed an existential threat to Israel as a Jewish state.
“The continuation of this rampant construction in settlements all over the country will lead to the Jewish majority being replaced by an Arab majority,” he warned at a conference of the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
Most of the 2,502 housing units will be built in the large settlement areas, notably in the city of Ariel and in Givat Ze’ev, outside Jerusalem. But some will also go up in the settlement of Beit El near the de facto Palestinian West Bank capital of Ramallah.
At the INSS conference, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman denied the newly approved settlement homes were a drastic change in policy prompted by the Trump presidency.
“There’s nothing new in this. We always built, including under the Obama administration,” he said.
According to the Peace Now settlement watchdog, the new homes approved on Tuesday may be the largest number to have been given the green light since 2013.
AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.