The European Union on Monday condemned Israel after construction plans for 2,342 settlement homes were green-lighted last month.
The bloc said its position on Israel building in the West Bank remains unchanged: “All settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace.”
The EU also criticized the decision to approve the expansion of a road that connects settlements to Jerusalem while bypassing Bethlehem, referred to by locals as the tunnel road, saying it is “entrenching the fragmentation of the West Bank.”
The Peace Now settlement watchdog has speculated that the project would “dramatically increase the number of settlers in the Bethlehem area.”
The bloc made its statement after the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee — the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction — published on Thursday the protocol from a meeting it held earlier this month when it made the approvals, capping off a record year for such plans since US President Donald Trump took office.
The quarterly session was the last held during the 2019 calendar year, during which plans for 8,337 homes were advanced — the most since 2013. Each of Trump’s nearly three years in office saw an increase in settlement approvals, with 6,742 green-lit in 2017 and 5,618 advanced in 2018.
Under unofficial settlement guidelines coordinated with the White House when Trump took office, Israel agreed that the Civil Administration committee would meet once every three months instead of once every month.
Breaking from its predecessors, the Trump administration has avoided criticizing settlement construction. Outgoing peace envoy Jason Greenblatt said he refers to Israeli localities over the Green Line as “neighborhoods and cities,” while US Ambassador David Friedman has said he does not see anything wrong with Israel maintaining control over parts of the West Bank.
However, both have stated that Israel should hold off on annexation plans for the time being while Washington is gearing up to introduce the political portion of its peace plan, which is expected to face further delays with an end to the political deadlock in Israel nowhere in sight.
Of the homes advanced through various planning stages on October 10, 719 were given final approval for construction.
Fifty-two percent of the 2,342 homes advanced will be located beyond the planned or built route of the security barrier, and deep in the West Bank.
Among the plans advanced was a project for 182 homes in Mevo’ot Yeriho in the Jordan Valley. Days before last month’s election, the cabinet voted to begin legalizing the wildcat outpost.
Also advanced through an earlier stage was a plan for 382 homes in the Dolev settlement in the central West Bank. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had ordered for the plan to be expedited after a terror attack at a nearby natural spring killed 17-year-old Rina Schnerb.
Peace Now called on the next government to “put a freeze on the development of settlements and to strive for immediate resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions and to end the bloody conflict based on the principle of two states for two peoples.”
All settlements are considered by much of the international community illegal and are built on West Bank land that the Palestinians see as part of their future state, but Israel distinguishes between those it has approved and those it has not.
AFP contributed to this report.
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