The United Nations on Thursday slammed the Israeli government’s announcement of the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to build 300 new homes in Beit El “deeply troubling.”
The UN’s special envoy to the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, said that if Israel and the Palestinians do not “grasp the current opportunity” to reach a peace agreement, it would do more than slow progress toward a two-state solution. “Instead, we could be moving down the path toward a one-state reality, which would also move us further away from regional peace in the spirit of the Arab Peace Initiative.”
That 2002 plan, first proposed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, called for a full Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and right of return or compensation for Palestinian refugees.
After having blocked a law in the Knesset yesterday that would have retroactively legalized settlements built on private Palestinian land — thus effectively deciding that the illegal Ulpana neighborhood in Beit El would be dismantled in the coming days — Netanyahu vowed to expand the city, located north of Ramallah. The Supreme Court ruled that the neighborhood must be demolished by July 1.
“The 30 families [who currently live in Ulpana] will remain in Beit El and will be joined by 300 new families,” Netanyahu vowed yesterday. “I tell those who think they can use the judicial system to hurt settlement that they are mistaken, because in practice the exact opposite will occur. Instead of shrinking Beit El, Beit El has expanded. Instead of hurting settlement, settlement has been strengthened.”
In addition, Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Attias said Wednesday that 550 new homes have been approved in several West Bank towns, including Efrat, Ma’aleh Adumim, and Ariel.
Netanyahu on Wednesday also announced the establishment of a “ministerial committee on settlement,” tasked to ensure the government’s policy of strengthening settlements is implemented.
“There is no government that supports, or will support, settlement more than my government,” the prime minister said, after having faced heavy opposition from right-wing elements, even within his own party, for agreeing to demolish Ulpana. “It must be understood that ours is a very complex diplomatic, national and legal environment. And in this complex reality, one must navigate wisely, sagaciously and responsibly. We will continue to strengthen settlement and we will continue to strengthen democracy in the State of Israel.”
On Wednesday, the US State Department slammed Netanyahu’s move and called upon Israelis and Palestinians to “refrain from these kinds of actions” and return to the negotiating table. “We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” a spokesman said.