European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Friday criticized Israel’s plan to build new settlement homes in a contentious area of the West Bank, saying it will cut territorial contiguity between East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that he had ordered the promotion of a plan for some 3,500 homes that has long been frozen due to objections from governments around the world supportive of a two-state solution.
“The EU reiterates its call on Israel to halt settlement construction, to suspend the publication of tenders and to refrain from any measures aimed at the advancement of such construction plans. Settlements are illegal under international law,” read Borrell’s statement. “We call on both parties to engage in a dialogue and to refrain from any unilateral action that undermines the viability of the two-state solution.”
The project in the so-called E1 area between East Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim would bisect the western West Bank, substantially curbing the possibility for development in the center of a future Palestinian state if one were to be created.
The project Netanyahu referred to on Tuesday actually comprises two plans north of Ma’ale Adumim totaling 3,426 homes that were prepared by the government of former 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 green-lit 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 acknowledged Tuesday was pressure from European governments and the US.
Speaking at the B’Sheva conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Netanyahu said that he had ordered that the E1 project be advanced through the next planning stage in which its details are publicized in Israeli newspapers. Members of the public are then given the opportunity to present objections to the plans to the Civil Administration, before they can be given final approval for construction in a process that often takes two to three years.
On Wednesday, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said the planned construction would destroy the prospect of a two-state solution.
The plan to build in an area known as E1 “is so dangerous, more dangerous than any other settlement plans in the West Bank,” al-Maliki told reporters on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Al-Malki said the plan “intends to destroy the two-state solution” and would “kill any possibility” for a peace plan proposed by US President Donald Trump and accepted by Netanyahu last month.
On Thursday, the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction green-lit plans for nearly 1,800 Israeli homes in the West Bank. Of the 1,739 homes advanced by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee, 1,036 were cleared through an early planning stage known as “deposit” and 703 received final approval for construction throughout the West Bank.
The announcements appeared to be the latest in a string of gestures toward settlers and their supporters in the weeks ahead of the election in a bid to shore up support for his right-wing bloc.
On Sunday, the Prime Minister’s Office ordered that 12 illegal outposts in the West Bank be connected to the state’s official power grid.
Last week, Netanyahu announced that he had lifted restrictions on the construction of the controversial Givat Hamatos neighborhood in East Jerusalem, saying that 3,000 homes would be built for Jewish residents there, in addition to another 2,200 housing units for Jews in the nearby Har Homa neighborhood.
Jacob Magid and AFP contributed to this report.