UN envoy urges Israel to cease all settlement activity 'immediately'

Tor Wennesland calls for calm before Ramadan, Passover and Easter

Israel's UN ambassador said his country has 'no intention of building any new communities' in the occupied West Bank. AFP
Powered by automated translation

The UN's special envoy for the Middle East urged Israel on Wednesday to cease all settlement activity “immediately”, in line with its obligations under international law.

During the monthly UN Security Council meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Tor Wennesland said he was “deeply troubled” by continued Israeli settlement expansion, including the recent authorisation of nine illegal outposts and the advancement of more than 7,000 settlement housing units.

“Israeli settlements have no legal validity and constitute a flagrant violation of international law and United Nations resolutions,” said the special envoy for the Middle East Peace Process.

Citing “numerous human rights violations” in East Jerusalem including the “forcible transfer” of Palestinians, Mr Wennesland called for an end to any actions that threaten “to plunge Palestinians and Israelis deeper into deadly crisis”.

He called on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to help “calm the situation” before Ramadan, which coincides with the Jewish holiday of Passover and Easter in Christianity, and move towards re-establishing a “political horizon”.

Israeli and Palestinian authorities agreed to lower tension before Ramadan during a meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, last Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government has made settlement expansion its top priority.

On Tuesday, the Israeli Parliament voted to repeal the provisions of the 2005 Disengagement Law through which four Jewish settlements in the West Bank were dismantled at the same time Israeli forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip.

It still must be signed by an Israeli military commander to be enforced.

The US said on Tuesday that it was “extremely troubled” by the parliament's vote in support of settlements and called the move “provocative”.

Israel’s Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said on Sunday at a private event in Paris that the Palestinian people were “an invention” from the last century and there was “no such thing” as Palestinians.

Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s UN ambassador, said Mr Smotrich’s comments were not about the past but about a “vision for the future, which is infinitely more dangerous”.

“He is denying our existence to justify what is to come,” Mr Mansour told Security Council members.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s UN ambassador, said Mr Smotrich had since apologised for his remarks. Regarding Israel's decision to repeal the 2005 Disengagement Law, Mr Erdan said Israel does not “see it as an act of provocation”.

He added that the country has “no intention of building any new communities” in the occupied West Bank.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, noted that Washington continues to believe that a two-state solution remains the “best way” to ensure Israeli and Palestinians can live side by side in peace and security, even though prospects for such a solution “feel remote at the moment”.

Updated: March 22, 2023, 6:20 PM