Blinken calls move 'detrimental to Israel's security'

Global condemnations of Israel pour in over planned outpost legalizations

EU, Washington, UN, Arab nations assail cabinet decision to approve nine illegally built communities, many of which are built on Palestinian land

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Settler activists dance in celebration at the establishment of the illegal settlement outpost of Gofna on Sunday morning, February 12, 2023, before it was evacuated and demolished by personnel from the Border Police and Civil Administration. (Courtesy)
Settler activists dance in celebration at the establishment of the illegal settlement outpost of Gofna on Sunday morning, February 12, 2023, before it was evacuated and demolished by personnel from the Border Police and Civil Administration. (Courtesy)

A flood of international condemnations began pouring in on Monday after Israel announced that its cabinet had approved moving toward legalizing nine wildcat outposts deep in the West Bank, in response to a series of terror attacks in Jerusalem.

The criticism came from the US, Europe and much of the Arab world, including countries that have diplomatic ties with Israel.

One country that does not have relations with Jerusalem but is highly sought after by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government is Saudi Arabia, which was among those to lash Israel over the outpost legalizations.

Speaking at a press conference alongside EU Foreign Policy chief Josep Borrell, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan blasted the move as “a blatantly illegal act that will only serve to further inflame tensions and complicate the situation.”

The Saudi Foreign Ministry also issued a separate statement condemning the Israeli announcement, which also included the green-lighting of plans for some 10,000 new settlement homes in the West Bank.

“This is, unfortunately, a tendency for years now,” the EU’s Borrell said in remarks after Farhan, similarly condemning the cabinet decision.

“We feel that it is necessary for all of us, and for the key international partners, to explore ways to revive and safeguard the prospect of the two-state solution and to achieve a just, comprehensive and lasting peace by building on the Arab Peace Initiative, United Nations resolutions and established international peace parameters.”

The US was one of the first countries to issue a condemnation, with an anonymous administration official expressing “deep concern” on Sunday, while clarifying that Washington was seeking more information on the matter.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a rare condemnation in his own name, blasting both the outpost legalization and settlement expansion plans.

“Like previous administrations, Democratic and Republican, we strongly oppose such unilateral measures, which exacerbate tensions and undermine the prospects for a negotiated two-state solution,” Blinken said.

“As I have previously stated, anything that takes us away from the vision of two states for two peoples is detrimental to Israel’s long-term security, its identity as a Jewish and democratic state, and to our vision of equal measures of security, freedom, prosperity, and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” he continued. “We call on all parties to avoid additional actions that can further escalate tensions in the region and to take practical steps that can improve the well-being of the Palestinian people.”

Responding specifically to the condemnation from the US, a senior government official, speaking anonymously, said the government was not surprised.

“We have had differences of opinion on this issue for decades,” the official said, pointing out that the illegal outposts being regulated are not new and that some of them have existed for several decades.

“These disagreements did not and will not harm the strong alliance between Israel and the US,” he added.

A German Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that Berlin is “extremely concerned” about the announcement, warning against its implementation and saying that the decision would lead to “intensified tensions.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken boards the plane to leave Israel on January 31, 2023. (State Department/ Twitter)

A spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the UN chief was “deeply concerned” and warned that “if these measures are implemented, they would further undermine prospects for a viable two-state solution.”

“He reiterates that all settlements are illegal under international law and a substantial obstacle to peace,” Guterres’s spokesman said.

In its own condemnation, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said “the only way to calm the situation is to stop [such] practices that violate international laws.”

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry echoed that sentiment and also pointed out the “extremely worrying developments and increasing civilian casualties in the West Bank” that have hampered efforts for peace.

Jordan Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi blasted the outpost legalizations as a “stark violation of international law that’ll fuel rising tension and violence. We condemn this decision and all other illegal measures that undermine the two-state solution and prospects for just peace.”

Abraham Accords signatory countries Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates did not immediately issue condemnations of their own.

The Sde Boaz outpost in the West Bank on October 11, 2022. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

On Sunday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh blasted the approvals as “a recipe for escalation, whose dangerous consequences for the region and the world cannot be avoided, as they threaten the Palestinians’ [very] existence.”

Shtayyeh called on the United Nations and the United States to intervene, noting that the Israeli cabinet approvals will test the seriousness of the Biden administration, whose senior officials visited over the past month and pledged to oppose such unilateral measures by Israel.

The outposts that Israel plans to legalize are Avigayil, Beit Hogla, Givat Harel, Givat Arnon, Mitzpe Yehuda, Malachei Hashalom, Asahel, Sde Boaz, and Shacharit.

To legalize the outposts, the government will have to prove that they were established on what Israel considers to be state land. This will likely be difficult, given that many of them, including almost all of Sde Boaz and Givat Harel, were built on private Palestinian land.

The High Court of Justice is likely to object to such legalizations and the process will likely take months, if not years. However, the new hardline government is simultaneously advancing a series of contentious bills that would significantly restrict the ability of the judiciary to overrule such cabinet decisions. This is partially why settler leaders are among the most ardent advocates of plans to overhaul the judiciary.

One of the outposts, Givat Arnon, is located on land designated as an Israel Defense Forces firing zone in the northern West Bank, exposing a discrepancy between how the government treats unauthorized Israeli and Palestinian construction, given that the state has moved to demolish a series of Palestinian villages in an area known as Masafer Yatta that was also designated as a military firing zone.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, February 12, 2023. At right is Itamar Ben Gvir. (Amit Shabi / Pool)

Netanyahu also said that his cabinet members agreed to have the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction convene in the coming days to advance plans for new Israeli construction in the West Bank.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a settler himself, said in a statement that plans for roughly 10,000 homes would soon be advanced, in what would be the largest batch of settler homes advanced by the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration in years. The move would also be consistent with the founding principles of the hardline coalition — that “the Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel,” including the West Bank.

While the international community considers all settlements illegal, Israel differentiates between settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state, and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, often on private Palestinian land. However, outposts are sometimes established with the state’s tacit approval, and successive governments have sought to legalize at least some of the 100-plus unrecognized communities as a result.

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