US: Settlements inconsistent with international law

Israel greenlights plans for nearly 3,500 new settlement homes

Defense Ministry body approves projects to build 2,402 new homes in Ma’ale Adumim, 694 homes in Efrat and 330 homes in Keidar after record-breaking year of West Bank expansion

A construction site in the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim on February 29, 2024. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
A construction site in the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim on February 29, 2024. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The Defense Ministry body that authorizes settlement constriction advanced plans for 3,426 new Israeli homes to be build beyond the Green Line, two government ministers announced on Wednesday.

After a monthslong lull in West Bank construction approvals, projects to build 2,402 new homes in Ma’ale Adumim, 694 homes in Efrat and 330 homes in Keidar were advanced by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee, Settlements Minister Orit Strock said.

The projects in Ma’ale Adumim and Kedar were approved through an earlier planning stage known as deposit while the homes for Efrat received a more final planning approval before construction.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, under whose aegis the subcommittee falls, had framed the latest expansion on February 22, calling it an “appropriate Zionist response” to a terror attack outside Ma’ale Adumim earlier that day, in which one man was killed and 11 people were injured, including a pregnant woman.

“The enemies try to harm and weaken us but we will continue to build and be built up in this land,” Smotrich wrote on X on Wednesday, announcing the success of his efforts.

Shlomo Ne’eman, chairman of the Yesha umbrella group of settler mayors, welcomed the approvals as well.

Israeli security forces examine the scene of a shooting attack near the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, on February 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

“Following many months of delaying the meeting, and especially during these difficult times, the continuation of construction in Judea and Samaria is the most appropriate Zionist response,” said Ne’eman in a statement, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.

Settlement leaders have been pushing for the committee to convene in order to get the ball rolling on new home approvals in West Bank settlements. According to Hebrew-language media reports, the council had not met since June, due to the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Smotrich said in his Wednesday announcement that a record 18,515 homes have been approved in the West Bank over the past year and two months since the hard-right government took power. In the first six months of the hardline government’s tenure that began in December 2022, it managed to advance plans for more settler homes than any government has in an entire year.

The vast majority of the international community, along with the Palestinians, considers settlement construction illegal or illegitimate and an obstacle to a two-state solution. Over 500,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank, which was captured by Israel in 1967 and sought by the Palestinians for a future state.

Smotrich’s February 22 announcement of renewed West Bank construction elicited outrage from the Biden administration.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken restored historic US policy deeming settlements inconsistent with international law, rejecting a stance implemented by the former administration, hours after the Israeli announcement.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 4, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“It’s been long-standing US policy under Republican and Democratic administrations alike that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace, Blinken said.

“They’re also inconsistent with international law,” he continued, effectively revoking what became known as the “Pompeo doctrine,” which deemed settlements “not per se inconsistent with international law.”

The 2019 policy implemented by former US president Donald Trump’s secretary of state Mike Pompeo rejected views held for decades by administrations from both parties that maintained varying degrees of adversarial relationships with West Bank settlements. The Pompeo policy — for the first time — saw the US take a neutral, if not supportive, view of Israel’s presence beyond the Green Line.

Asked to comment on the Wednesday approvals of the plans that drew the far-reaching response from Washington last month, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller reiterated that “Settlements continue to be a barrier to peace. Settlements continue to be inconsistent with international law.”

“These settlements don’t just harm the Palestinian people, but they ultimately weaken Israel’s security and weaken the prospects for a lasting agreement that would provide real peace and real security for the Israeli people,” Miller added.

File – State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller answers questions during a news briefing at the State Department on July 18, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard)

The US was joined by Germany whose foreign ministry called on the Israeli government to immediately withdraw the approvals, saying building settlements in occupied Palestinian territories was a serious violation of international law.

“We strongly condemn the approval of further settlement units in the West Bank,” Berlin added.

The Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Jordan also strongly condemned the move by Israel.

The spokesperson for PA President Mahmoud Abbas called the news a “slap in the face” to nations who “called for an end to settlement activities.”

The spokesperson for Jordan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the new settlement expansion was “aimed at changing the existing historical and legal situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

The Hamas terror group said the move was “nothing but a message of defiance and recklessness from the Zionist government headed by war criminals.”

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