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European powers, Jordan condemn Israel settlement approvals

Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Spain say green-lighting of 5,000 homes is ‘counterproductive’ and undermines regional peace efforts

This photo from February 15, 2017, shows the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
This photo from February 15, 2017, shows the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

European powers on Friday condemned Israel’s decision to approve thousands more settlement homes in the West Bank, calling it a “counterproductive” move that undermines regional peace efforts.

Jordan, meanwhile, said the move violated international law and called for global pressure to prevent construction.

A joint statement from the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Spain said: “The expansion of settlements violates international law and further imperils the viability of a two-state solution to bring about a just and lasting peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“As we have emphasized directly with the government of Israel, this step furthermore undermines efforts to rebuild trust between the parties with a view to resuming dialogue,” they said, urging an immediate halt in settlement construction.

The ministers said pushing ahead with more settlements would be a “counterproductive move in light of the positive developments of normalization agreements reached between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.”

(L-R)Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan hold up documents as they participated in the signing of the Abraham Accords where the countries of Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognize Israel, at the White House in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi called the decision “a violation of international law… illegitimate steps that undermine the two-state solution and the chances of achieving a comprehensive peace.

“A clear international position to reject these [homes] and put pressure to block them is necessary to protect peace and protect international law,” al-Safadi said.

Israel agreed to suspend plans to annex swaths of the West Bank under the US peace plan in exchange for the normalization deals with the Gulf states.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi at a November 11, 2019 press conference at the Jordanian foreign ministry (Screenshot)

The Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction advanced plans for over 2,700 West Bank homes Thursday, capping off a two-day session which saw the green-lighting of nearly 5,000 homes in total.

The approvals brought the annual total of housing units advanced to 12,159, in what the Peace Now settlement watchdog said was a record-breaking figure that beat out last year’s number by nearly 4,000.

During this week’s committee meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, plans for 4,948 settlement homes were advanced, with 2,688 given final approval for construction and 2,260 approved for an earlier planning stage known as “deposit.”

Several hundred of the approvals were for homes already constructed illegally, which will be retroactively regulated. Many were for homes in settlements deep in the West Bank.

The Palestinians and neighboring Jordan on Wednesday condemned the new approvals.

Palestinian Authority presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said Israel had exploited improving relations in the Gulf and “blind support from the Trump administration.”

File: Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, speaks at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 5, 2017. (Flash90)

In a Thursday statement, United Nations Special Envoy Nickolay Mladenov said the locations of the okayed plans were particularly troubling.

“Settlement construction is illegal under international law and is one of the major obstacles to peace,” he said. “This significant number and location of advancements is of great concern to all those who remain committed to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace,”

He warned that such moves undermine the possibility of a two-state solution, and urged Israel to “cease immediately all settlement-related activities.”

The last time Israel promoted the construction of new homes beyond the Green Line was in late February, when it 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 2,200 housing units for Jews in the nearby Har Homa neighborhood.

Netanyahu also announced plans to build in a strip of land in the West Bank East of Jerusalem called E1, effectively linking the capital to Ma’ale Adumim.

Critics say building in the Givat Hamatos and Har Homa areas of the southeast of the capital will effectively cut Palestinian neighborhoods in the city from Bethlehem in the West Bank.

Most of the international community considers settlement construction a violation of international law. In November 2019, by contrast, the US State Department said it had concluded that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law.”

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