EU condemns biggest Israeli settlement plan since 1990s

The announcement came from Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

A man holds a Palestinian national flag during a protest to remove an earth wall blocking the west entrance of the occupied West Bank city of Nablus. EPA
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The European Union has strongly condemned Israeli plans to build the largest settlements in the occupied West Bank since the 1993 Oslo peace effort.

The plans were announced by the far-right ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who said the intention was to build on 800 hectares of land in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The EU condemned the fact that Israel declared the territory as “state lands”.

“This is the largest confiscation since the Oslo Accords. Settlements are a grave breach of international humanitarian law. At this week’s European Council, EU leaders condemned Israeli Government decisions to further expand illegal settlements across the occupied West Bank, urging Israel to reverse these decisions,” the EU said.

The UN says illegal Israeli settlement construction is expanding at a record pace, having already ramped up under Mr Netanyahu’s current government which includes far-right figures such as Mr Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, a highly controversial figure linked to a US-designated terror organisation, although he claims to have renounced those ties.

Earlier this month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said that the expansion of settlements amounted to the transfer of Israel’s population, which he condemned as a war crime. The US government has also frequently condemned the expansion of settlements, warning they will derail attempts at long-term political solutions to the conflict, including the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

The denomination of the 800 hectares of land in the Jordan Valley as state land follows a similar designation of 740 acres in the Maale Adumim area of the West Bank, which the Palestinians want as the core of a future independent state.

“The EU will not recognise changes to the 1967 borders unless agreed by the parties. This position goes hand in hand with the EU’s commitment to Israel’s security and to ensuring that the horrific attacks against Israeli civilians on 7 October will never be repeated. The EU is determined to fight such terrorism in word and deed, by continuously condemning Hamas in the strongest possible terms and through sanctions and other measures. Settlement expansion runs counter to this objective,” the EU said.

Palestinian authorities condemned the move.

“While there are those in Israel and in the world who seek to undermine our right to Judea and Samaria and the country in general, we promote settlement through hard work and in a strategic manner all over the country,” Mr Smotrich said, using Biblical names for the area of the West Bank that are commonly used in Israel.

The Palestinians say the expansion of settlements across the West Bank is part of a deliberate Israeli policy to undermine its ambition of creating an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the latest move was “a continuation of the extermination and displacement of our people from their homeland”.

“The international failure to protect our people is complicity and cover for Israel's ongoing evasion of punishment,” it added.

International pressure for a resumption of efforts to reach a two state solution, with an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, has grown amid efforts to end the nearly six month war in Gaza.

Little progress has been made on achieving Palestinian statehood since the signing of the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s. Among the obstacles impeding it are expanding Israeli settlements.

Updated: March 24, 2024, 7:34 PM