13 European states call on Israel to halt plans for 3,000 settlement homes

A day after US rebuke, UK, France and Germany are among countries saying Israel should ‘immediately’ scrap project

A picture taken on November 19, 2019 shows a new housing construction site in the Israeli settlement of Elazar, near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem south of Jerusalem, in the West Bank. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
A picture taken on November 19, 2019 shows a new housing construction site in the Israeli settlement of Elazar, near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem south of Jerusalem, in the West Bank. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

A group of 12 countries on Thursday collectively urged Israel to scrap plans for the construction of more than 3,000 settler homes in the West Bank. The United Kingdom separately issued a similar statement urging Israel to reverse plans for fresh settlement construction.

A day after the US criticized the plan, France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden said in a joint statement that Israel should cancel its decision to build in the settlements.

“We urge the Government of Israel to reverse its decision to advance plans for the construction of around 3,000 settlement units in the West Bank,” the foreign ministries of the 12 said.

“We reiterate our strong opposition to its policy of settlement expansion across the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which violates international law and undermines efforts for the two-state solution,” they said.

In its own statement, the UK said settlements “are illegal under international law and present an obstacle to peace and stability.” It urged Jerusalem to reverse its decision.

Israel on Wednesday made fresh moves towards building the settler homes in the West Bank, a move also condemned by the Palestinians.

The Civil Administration’s high planning committee gave final approval to 1,800 homes and initial endorsement for another 1,344, according to a spokesman for the military body that oversees civilian matters in the Palestinian territories.

Roadworks expand a road to Israeli settlements inside the West Bank, near the city of Bethlehem, March 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, File)

The approvals came a day after Washington criticized Israel for its policy of building settlements, with US President Joe Biden’s administration saying it “strongly” opposed new construction in the West Bank.

On Tuesday, the US State Department said it was “deeply concerned” about Israel’s plans to advance new settlement homes, including many deep inside the West Bank.

“We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements, which is completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm and damages the prospects for a two-state solution,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington.

Last week, after the high planning subcommittee published its agenda for its upcoming session, the United States Embassy in Jerusalem’s chargé d’affaires Michael Ratney called Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s senior foreign policy adviser Shimrit Meir to voice his opposition, an Israeli official confirmed to The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

The two had a “difficult” conversation, the Axios news site reported, with Ratney taking particular issue over the fact that many of the projects are located deep in the West Bank, further complicating US efforts to promote a two-state solution.

The Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the sides indeed have disagreements over the issue of settlements, but they disputed Axios’s characterization of the call.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) meets the chargé d’affairs at the US Embassy in Jerusalem, Michael Ratney, at the Prime Minister’s Office, on June 30, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Several countries have also criticized Israel’s designation of six leading Palestinian civil society groups as outlawed terrorist organizations

Israel said its decision last week was due to their alleged financing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

It accused the six of working covertly with the leftist terror group, which pioneered plane hijackings in the 1970s to highlight the Palestinian cause and is blacklisted by several Western governments.

However, it has yet to provide public proof of those assertions.

“We are very concerned by the Israeli decision,” a German foreign ministry spokeswoman told reporters on Wednesday, saying that the groups’ placement on a terror list would have “broad political, legal and financial implications” for them.

A day earlier, France voiced “concern” over the decision. “France reiterates its devotion to the vital role that civil society plays in democratic life,” a spokesperson for France’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “We request clarifications from the Israeli authorities.”

The US has also voiced concern and said it wants more information from Israel.

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