EU sounds alarm over Israel’s ‘continuously increasing settlement expansion’

Construction poses ‘serious threat’ to two-state solution, report says, also pointing to ‘a worrisome trend of rising settler violence’ against Palestinians in the West Bank

Illustrative: In this March 13, 2019, photo, an Israeli flag flies on a building in East Jerusalem's Mount of Olives. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Illustrative: In this March 13, 2019, photo, an Israeli flag flies on a building in East Jerusalem's Mount of Olives. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The European Union accused Israel on Wednesday of undermining prospects for a two-state solution by expanding West Bank settlements and Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

In a report, the bloc’s mission to the Palestinians criticized the “continuously increasing settlement expansion on occupied Palestinian territories.”

The report charged that in 2021, the number of settlement units advanced in East Jerusalem more than doubled, from 6,288 the previous year to 14,894.

It particularly pointed to construction in the area surrounding Jerusalem and the so-called E1 corridor, located within the municipal boundary of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, as potentially disconnecting East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.

This, the report said, would “have serious implications on Palestinian urban continuity and pose[s] a serious threat to a viable two-state solution.”

Road projects and the establishment of new illegal outposts were specifically singled out as trends and developments contributing to settler expansion.

The EU noted that this happened despite the current government, which began its tenure on June 13, 2021, promising to maintain the status quo vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

The report was published the same day thousands of right-wing Israeli activists flocked to the West Bank in an initiative led by the radical settler organization Nachala to establish new illegal outposts in the territory.

A spokesman for the organization said some 10,000 volunteers participated in the initiative, although this figure could not be independently verified.

As of Thursday afternoon, police and military forces have dismantled most of the makeshift outposts except one, which is located on a hilltop outside Kiryat Arba and dubbed Givat Netanel.

Several far-right Israeli lawmakers, including Religious Zionism MKs Orit Strock and Simcha Rothman, arrived at the new outpost on Thursday morning to lend their support to the initiative.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked tweeted her support for the activists late Wednesday night, describing them as “wonderful youth” who are “a real inspiration,” adding: “Be strong and courageous!”

She is the only member of the outgoing government to have publicly expressed support for an operation her cabinet colleague, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, has labeled “illegal.”

Settlers of the Nachala Settlement Movement set up tents near Kiryat Arba, with the intention of establishing illegal outposts in the West Bank, July 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Wednesday’s EU report also noted “a worrisome trend of rising settler violence” in the West Bank.

Last month, 27-year-old Palestinian Ali Hassan Harb was killed during a confrontation between settlers and Palestinians on the edges of his hometown of Iskaka. A group of Israelis had arrived in the area with construction materials in an apparent attempt to build a new illegal outpost.

According to data released by the Shin Bet, the number of attacks carried out by extremist Jewish settlers rose in 2021 by nearly 50 percent.

Most of the cases are never solved. Since 2005, just 3 percent of police investigations into extremist violence against Palestinians have led to indictments, according to the left-wing Yesh Din rights group.

Settler leaders have condemned some of the most brazen attacks, such as an incident near the outpost of Givat Ronen in which masked figures torched a car belonging to left-wing Israeli activists. They also say that the phenomenon is dwarfed by the number of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis.

Jeremy Sharon and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report. 

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