US 'strongly opposes' expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied West Bank

Settlements viewed as one of the largest impediments to the creation of a Palestinian state

A building under construction in the West Bank settlement of Ofra, north of Ramallah. EPA
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President Joe Biden's administration strongly opposes the expansion of settlements by the Israeli government, US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on Wednesday.

Such actions undermine the prospects of any comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution, exacerbate tension and further harm trust between the two parties, she told the UN Security Council.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield said.expressed alarm at the sharp rise in violence by extremist Israeli settlers against Palestinians.

“Ongoing violence sets back the prospects for peace and is responsible for so much needless suffering,” she said.

Settler violence has been increasing across the West Bank since 2021. Three settler related incidents per day occurred on average in the first eight months of 2023 - the highest such figure ever recorded by the UN - compared to an average of two per day in 2022 and one per day the year before.

Tor Wennesland, the UN Mideast envoy, reported that in the three months between mid-June and mid-September, 68 Palestinians, including 18 children, were killed and 2,830 were injured by Israeli security forces, while 10 Israelis, including two children, were killed and 122 injured.

Mr Wennesland said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is also “deeply troubled by the unrelenting expansion of Israeli settlements and settlement outposts” in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with over 10,000 housing units advanced in just that three-month period.

Efforts by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's far-right government to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank have intensified this year. The settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are viewed as one of the largest impediments to the creation of a Palestinian state.

The Israeli communities, illegal under international law, are now home to more than 700,000 people, the UN has said.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield also welcomed efforts to normalise relations between Israel and more Arab countries.

“We are hopeful the next iteration of the Negev Format will soon be convened at the ministerial level and will further advance regional integration initiatives,” she said, referring to the Negev Forum, a framework of regional co-operation between the UAE, Israel, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt and the US.

On Tuesday, the first Saudi ambassador to Palestine, Naif Al Sudairi, presented his credentials to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Riyadh has previously affirmed its commitment to the Arab League's stance of refraining from establishing relations with Israel until a resolution to the Palestinian issue is achieved.

US-mediated peace talks between Palestinians and Israel collapsed in 2014, triggering a sharp decline in relations amid a rise in violence.

Mr Abbas last week again stressed strong reservations to Arab countries building ties with Israel.

“Those who think that peace can prevail in the Middle East without the Palestinian people enjoying their full, legitimate national rights would be mistaken,” Mr Abbas told the UN General Assembly.

Updated: September 28, 2023, 3:08 PM