UK, Australia and Canada want Israel to reverse approval of new settlements

Expansion efforts in the occupied West Bank are 'an obstacle to peace', foreign ministers say

The Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Reuters
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Britain, Australia and Canada have called on Israel's government to reverse a decision to approve new settlement homes in the occupied West Bank, saying they are "deeply concerned" by violence.

This week, Israel approved more than 5,700 new homes in the West Bank, and earlier this month it instituted changes to the settlement approval process to enable swifter approval of construction.

"The continued expansion of settlements is an obstacle to peace and negatively impacts efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution. We call on the Government of Israel to reverse these decisions," the foreign ministers of Britain, Australia and Canada said in a joint statement.

Violence has been surging in the West Bank, including deadly clashes in Jenin, a fatal shooting by Palestinians near a Jewish settlement, attacks on Palestinian villages by rampaging settlers, and rare use of Israeli air power against militants.

On Saturday the Palestinian foreign ministry warned of growing settler violence "all across the West Bank" and urged the international community to label settler groups as terrorist organisations.

Foreign nations must "pressure" the Israeli government to dismantle settler groups and "dry up their financial resources," it added.

One person was killed and dozens were injured in settler violence across the West Bank two weeks ago, following an attack which left four Israelis dead near the Eli settlement.

The violence echoed a rampage in the Palestinian town of Huwara in February, when hundreds of settlers set buildings and vehicles alight after two Israelis were shot dead while driving through the town. A Palestinian man was killed in a nearby village during the violence.

"Hundreds of cases" of settler violence have occurred in the last week, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported, citing a senior defence source.

"Israel’s security services “don’t have any control over the mob of settlers, who do whatever they want in [the West Bank]," they added.

Responses to the settler attacks have exposed rifts between Israel's military and government.

A joint statement by Israeli military, police and domestic security service chiefs on Saturday said the settler attacks amounted to "nationalist terrorism", which they pledged to fight.

Such statements have drawn ire from government ministers, including National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who accused Shin Bet intelligence of paying disproportionate attention to Jewish attacks.

The minister, notorious for his anti-Palestinian views, recently referred to men detained for settler violence as "sweet boys," according to local media reports.

Most countries consider the settlements, built on land captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, to be illegal. Their presence is one of the fundamental issues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as their capital.

The Israeli cabinet, the most right-wing in the country's history, has placed settlement expansion at the top of its agenda, alongside controversial judicial reforms which sparked mass protests across Israel earlier this year.

Many government ministers live in Israeli settlements, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who was widely criticised for incendiary comments calling for Huwara to be "wiped out."

Mr Smotrich was handed sweeping powers over West Bank administration earlier this year, and was the architect behind recent changes to accelerate settlement construction and approval.

Updated: July 02, 2023, 12:41 PM