EU questions Israel’s commitment to peace amid approval of new West Bank homes

Echoing scathing US criticism, Europe says Israeli moves undermine ‘contiguity of any future Palestinian state’

File: European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at a press conference at the Romanian Foreign Ministry in Bucharest on October 7, 2016. (AFP/Daniel Mihailescu)
File: European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini at a press conference at the Romanian Foreign Ministry in Bucharest on October 7, 2016. (AFP/Daniel Mihailescu)

The European Union said Friday that Israel’s recent decision to approve construction for 98 new housing units in the West Bank further weakens the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and calls into question Israel’s commitment to reaching a peace deal, echoing criticism from the US this week that such building runs a risk to peace with the Palestinians.

The European Union External Action Service led by Federica Mogherini issued a statement saying the plans for new homes — meant to house settlers who are about to be evicted from the illegal outpost of Amona, under Supreme Court order — were “effectively a new settlement in the northern West Bank,” which “contradicts previous public statements by the Government of Israel that it had no intention of creating new settlements.”

It also said the plans further “undermin[e] the contiguity of a future Palestinian state.”

“The decision to continue settlement building and expansion…weakens rather than strengthens the prospects for a two-state solution to the Middle East peace process, and makes the possibility of a viable Palestinian state more remote,” the statement read, adding that “settlements are illegal under international law” and “continued settlement expansion also calls into question Israel’s commitment towards reaching a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians.”

Israeli officials have said that the building plans breach no commitments, do not constitute a new settlement and would not bring more settlers into the West Bank, since the construction is for new homes for settlers who are already there.

The US on Wednesday took Israel to task over the announcement, accusing Jerusalem of a betrayal of trust.

“We did receive public assurances from the Israeli government that contradict this announcement,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday. “I guess when we’re talking about how good friends treat one another, that’s a source of serious concern as well.”

In a similarly strongly worded statement, the State Department said Israel’s “recent decision to advance a plan that would create a significant new settlement deep in the West Bank.” Invoking the name of Israel’s former president who died last week, spokesman Mark Toner added: “[I]t is disheartening that while Israel and the world mourned the passing of President Shimon Peres, and leaders from the US and other nations prepared to honor one of the great champions of peace, plans were advanced that would seriously undermine the prospects for the two state solution that he so passionately supported.”

On Thursday, an Israeli official said the Obama administration’s “disproportionate criticism” over the construction was “an alibi” to cover plans by President Barack Obama to take anti-Israel actions in the final weeks of his presidency. One of the scenarios includes the US not using its veto power at the UN Security Council to block any anti-Israel resolutions that may be passed.

The Security Council will be holding a session next Friday titled: “The settlements as the obstacle to peace and a two-state solution.”

The meeting is considered the opening shot of a renewed Palestinian initiative to pass a resolution condemning Israel for settlement construction and expansion.

Israeli government members have been worried that Obama, before leaving office in January but after a successor is chosen in November, may seek to impose or advance a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or at least set out parameters for how it should be solved.

The TV report said cabinet ministers had been taken aback by the ferocity of the US reaction.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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