UK, Canada, Australia call on Israel to reverse approvals for settlement expansion

FMs condemn okayed plans to build thousands of settlement homes in West Bank, express deep concern over cycle of violence following Eli terror shooting, reprisal attacks

New housing projects in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Givat Ze'ev, June 18, 2023. (AP Photo/ Ohad Zwigenberg, File)
New housing projects in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Givat Ze'ev, June 18, 2023. (AP Photo/ Ohad Zwigenberg, File)

The United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia called on Israel to reverse recent decisions to approve more settlement construction in the West Bank, and said they were “gravely concerned” by Jerusalem’s green light to advance plans for some 5,700 new settlement homes. They are part of the 13,082 settlement homes that have been advanced through a pair of major planning stages so far in 2023.

In a joint statement late Friday, the foreign ministers of Britain, Australia and Canada condemned Israel’s “continued expansion of settlements” which they described as “an obstacle to peace” and a move that “negatively impacts efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution.”

“We are gravely concerned by the Government of Israel’s approval on June 26 of over 5,700 new settlement units in the West Bank. We are also concerned by the changes to the settlement approval process instituted by the Government of Israel on June 18, which facilitate swifter approval of construction in settlements,” said James Cleverly, Hon Penny Wong, and Mélanie Joly, the foreign minister of the UK, Australia, and Canada, respectively.

“We call on the government of Israel to reverse these decisions,” they wrote.

The ministers also said they were “deeply troubled by the continued violence and loss of life in Israel and in the West Bank,” and said they “unequivocally condemn all forms of terrorism and violence against civilians, including the terrorist attack on June 20 in Eli targeting Israeli civilians” and “the reprehensible and ongoing settler violence targeting Palestinians.”

The Palestinian shooting attack, carried out by a Hamas-affiliated cell, killed four Israelis at a gas station outside the Eli settlement, setting off days of reprisal attacks in the West Bank and settler operations to set up new wildcat outposts. Following the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Israel would deepen its roots in the West Bank in response to the shooting.

The body of a Palestinian terrorist is seen covered in a black plastic bag at the scene of an attack in which four Israelis were killed at a gas station near the Eli settlement in the West Bank. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

“The cycle of violence in Israel and the West Bank must be broken,” the ministers said in their statement Friday, adding that “Australia, Canada and the UK stand firmly with the Israeli and Palestinian people in their right to live in peace and security, with dignity, without fear and with their human rights fully respected.”

Earlier this week, the UN Security Council called for those responsible for the recent uptick in violence to be held accountable, in a vague press statement that appeared to have been watered down following pushback from the United States.

US deputy ambassador to the UN, Robert Wood, told the council that the Biden administration shares the alarm over the spiraling violence.

Wood said the US was “horrified by the brutal terror attack against Israelis” in Eli and condemned it “in the strongest terms.” He also condemned “the recent extremist settler attacks against Palestinian civilians, which have resulted in a death, injuries and significant damage to their property.”

Washington had also warned Israel against advancing the latest batch of settlement homes, after Jerusalem announced its plan to do so last week. The June 18 announcement led Morocco to cancel its plans to host the second-ever ministerial summit of the Negev Forum next month.

The Biden administration has also been increasingly outspoken in its criticism of Israel’s settlement policies. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the settlements “an obstacle to the horizon of hope we seek,” in a speech to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC.

Border Police officers stop Israeli settlers from entering the Palestinian West Bank town of Turmus Ayya, June 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

But Israel’s hardline government, which contains a significant number of the settlement movement’s most ideological supporters, appears determined to use the opportunity to shut the door on the possibility of Palestinian statehood, even as Netanyahu says a more primary goal is to secure a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia.

A US official told The Times of Israel last week that the settlement advancements “taint” efforts to secure such a normalization deal, as Riyadh remains determined to use the agreement to advance Palestinian sovereignty.

The Netanyahu government also passed a resolution that gives practically all control over planning approval for construction in West Bank settlements to far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, himself a settler and an impassioned advocate of the nationalist movement. That decision dramatically expedites and eases the process for expanding existing West Bank settlements and retroactively legalizing some illegal outposts.

The international community, along with the Palestinians, considers settlement construction illegal or illegitimate, and an obstacle to peace. Over 700,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — territories captured by Israel in 1967 and sought by the Palestinians for a future state.

Jeremy Sharon, Jacob Magid, and AP contributed to this report.

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