UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday urged Israel to “halt and reverse” its decision this week to approve almost 800 new homes in West Bank settlements.
The approval by the Civil Administration came days before the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden.
The decision is “a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace” in the Middle East, Guterres said in a statement.
“The establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law,” he said.
“Settlement expansion… further erodes the possibility of ending the occupation and establishing a contiguous and viable sovereign Palestinian State, based on the pre-1967 lines,” Guterres added.
The action has previously been condemned by the European Union, the United Kingdom, Israeli opposition members and left-wing watchdog Peace Now, among others.
Peace Now said that over 90 percent of the homes would be built deep inside the West Bank, which the Palestinians seek as the heartland of a future independent state, and over 200 homes would be located in unauthorized outposts that the government has decided to legalize.
Israel has stepped up settlement construction during US President Donald Trump’s term, compared to the second term of Barack Obama. According to Peace Now, Israel approved or advanced construction of over 12,000 settlement homes in 2020, the highest number in a single year since it began recording statistics in 2012.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the approval for the construction projects last week. They include 100 homes in Tal Menashe, a settlement where an Israeli woman, Esther Horgen, was killed last month in an attack for which a Palestinian man has been charged.
“We’re here to stay. We’re continuing to build the Land of Israel!” Netanyahu wrote on Facebook then.
The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, for a future independent state. They say the growing settler population, approaching some 500,000 people, makes it increasingly difficult to achieve their dream of independence.
Israel says it is disputed territory, the Biblical Judea and Samaria, captured in a defensive war from Jordan, which itself seized the West Bank in 1948.
A string of US administrations, along with the rest of the international community, opposed settlement construction. But Trump, surrounded by a team of advisers with close ties to the settler movement, took a different approach. His administration did not criticize Israeli settlement announcements, and in a landmark decision, announced in 2018 that it did not consider settlements to be illegal under international law.
As a result, Israel approved plans for over 27,000 settler homes during Trump’s four-year term, more than 2.5 times the number approved during the Obama administration’s second term, according to Peace Now.
Biden is expected to return to the traditional US position of opposing settlements, setting the stage for a possible clash with Netanyahu.