Over two dozen Democratic members of Congress sent a letter Monday to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to pressure Israel against moving forward with th construction of thousands of settlement homes in an area near Jerusalem they maintain is vital for a viable future Palestinian state.
The 26 lawmakers who signed the letter, led by progressive Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, expressed their “immense concern” about the advancement of a plan to build some 3,400 homes in the E1 area of the West Bank.
“Frozen for years, plans to build settlements in E1 have been referred to as ‘doomsday settlements’ because they would threaten the territorial contiguity necessary for a viable independent Palestinian state by dividing the north of the West Bank from the south, as well as the West Bank from East Jerusalem,” they wrote.
“Israeli settlements in the West Bank further entrench the occupation and undermine the prospects of a two-state solution,” the warned. “Settlements diminish the viability of a contiguous Palestinian state, thereby also threatening the future of a negotiated two-state solution that guarantees the civil and political rights, safety, and self-determination of both peoples.”
Noting that settlement construction increased by 28 percent under the previous Trump administration the lawmakers said settlements “pose an irreconcilable challenge to a lasting peace solution between Israel and the Palestinians.”
They urged the US State Department “to exert diplomatic pressure” to prevent the E1 settlement construction and demanded an update on those efforts by December 15.
An Israeli military body has recently scheduled two meetings in the next few weeks to discuss the plans for 3,400 settlement homes in E1. The plan was initiated last year under the previous government of Benjamin Netanyahu and, at the time, drew widespread international criticism.
Critics say it would largely bisect the West Bank, making it impossible to establish a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. A two-state solution is still seen internationally as the most realistic way to resolve the conflict. West Bank settlements are considered an obstacle to peace, and most of the international community considers them illegal.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has criticized settlement construction as hindering the eventual revival of the long-moribund peace process but has not demanded a freeze. A rights group last month claimed that Israel is quietly advancing controversial construction projects in and around Jerusalem without making major announcements that could anger the White House.
The long-deliberated E1 scheme comprises two plans north of Ma’ale Adumim totaling 3,426 homes that were prepared by the government of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 and advanced through an early planning stage called “deposit” in 2004 by the Civil Administration, the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction. Then-prime minister Ariel Sharon dropped the plans upon the request of US president George W. Bush.
In 2012, Netanyahu greenlit the resurrection of the plan and it was once again approved for “deposit.” The Haaretz daily reported at the time that France and the UK considered recalling their ambassadors from Israel in response to the approval. The project has since been frozen due to what Netanyahu afterwards acknowledged was pressure from European governments and the US.