News that Israel plans to build 2,500 new settlement units across the occupied West Bank was met with criticism on Wednesday from the international community and Palestinians, while an Israeli settler group called the move a “disappointment.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman approved the new settlement expansion on Tuesday, one day after the duo approved 500 other settlement units in occupied East Jerusalem.
According to a Haaretz report, Netanyahu said that “we are building – and will continue to build,” while Lieberman was quoted as saying, “We are returning to life as normal in Judea and Samaria,” using the Israeli term for the West Bank.
While Palestinians condemned the plan, Israeli settler Yesha Council said the blueprint was a “disappointment,” insisting that 2,500 new settlement units was not enough to meet the demand of Israelis looking to live in the occupied West Bank, according to another Haaretz report.
Following the announcement on Tuesday, Ambassador Riyad Mansour, the Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations sent a letter on behalf of the State of Palestine to the UN Secretary General, UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly, condemning the move and pleading for international intervention.
Mansour suggested the move was backlash against a UN resolution passed last month, which demanded Israel halt its settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Since the UN resolution Mansour said “the Israeli government has been unrelenting in its rejectionist and inflammatory rhetoric, provocative decisions, and illegal actions, all in direct violation of the resolution’s provisions and the longstanding demand of the international community that Israel cease its illegal settlement campaign in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”
“These actions, in addition to the crimes enumerated in the annex to this letter, reveal the true unlawful, annexationist intentions of the Israeli Government, its intent to persist with its half-century foreign occupation of the Palestinian people and land, and the deceit of its proclaimed commitment to the two-State solution. While the global consensus is that salvaging the two-State solution based on the 1967 lines is dependent on the full, immediate cessation and reversal of all such illegal activities, the rhetoric, decisions and actions by the Israeli Government are totally to the contrary and constitute grave violations of international law and blatant contempt of the international community,” he added.
Muhannad Qawfish, a youth volunteer at Youth Against Settlements based in occupied Hebron, told Mondoweiss that he agreed the expansion is further proof that Israel has no intentions of a seeking a solution to the ongoing conflict.
“Building more settlements in the West Bank means Israeli doesn’t want any solution, whether that be one state or two states,” Qawfish said. “In the end the result is that the Palestinians are losing hope. Israel is not stopping it’s annexations and obviously has no intention to. What we need right now more than ever is more support from the international community against Israel’s violations of international law.”
Qawfish also said that he believes Donald Trump’s rhetoric regarding Israel and Palestine has emboldened the Israeli government to act more drastically than it may have under a more moderate U.S. presidency.
“Israel has always had U.S. support, that is not new, but I think with Trump being president of the U.S., things are going to change a bit,” he said. “Things like the settlement expansion will increase and keep happening because now Israel has complete unwavering support from the U.S. That is Trump’s stance, he wants Israel to take the whole West Bank, and that is what they will do, they’ll take more and more of the West Bank and I think Trump’s support will also grow and things will get even worse here,”
In a statement released on Wednesday, the European Union condemned the settlement expansion.
The statement said that the announcement of the 3,000 new units in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem “seriously undermine(s) the prospects for a viable two-state solution” and that “It is regrettable Israel is proceeding with this policy, despite the continuous serious international concern and objections, which have been constantly raised at all levels.”
The statement added that “continued settlement expansion, illegal under international law as reaffirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 2334, goes directly against long-standing EU policy and the recommendations of the Quartet Report. A negotiated two-state solution is the only way to fulfil the legitimate aspirations of both parties and to achieve enduring peace.”
PeaceNow, an Israeli NGO and activist group aimed at promoting a two-state solution, said in a press release sent to journalists that Netanyahu was “taking advantage of the presidential transition” in the United States in order to “appease settlers.”
“Instead of jeopardizing the two-state solution, it is time for Netanyahu to take responsibility for the future of Israel by halting settlement construction and assuring the future of Israel as both Jewish and democratic,” the group said.
PLO Executive Committee Member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi also released a statement, strongly denouncing the move and calling the expansion a “war crime.”
“Once again, the Israeli government has proved that it is more committed to land theft and colonialism than to the two-state solution and the requirements for peace and stability,” she said. “Such a deliberate escalation of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise constitutes a war crime and the flagrant violation of international law and conventions.”
“It is evident that Israel is exploiting the inauguration of the new American administration to escalate its violations and the prevention of any existence of a Palestinian state,” the statement added. “Therefore, we urge the U.S. and the rest of the international community to undertake serious and concrete measures to bring about a full cessation of all settlement activities and to hold Israel to account for these disastrous plans with punitive measures and sanctions before it completes the destruction of the territorial and demographic contiguity of the West Bank.”