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Twelve countries, including Ireland, call on Israel to reverse plan for 3,000 settler homes in West Bank

The homes will be built in the occupied West Bank despite the US president’s strongest criticism yet of the project.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Oct 28th 2021, 2:00 PM

TWELVE COUNTRIES, INCLUDING Ireland, have released a joint statement calling on Israel to reverse its decision to construct 3,000 settlement units in the West Bank – after US President Joe Biden criticised its old ally for the decision.

Word of the approval came from Hagit Ofran from the anti-settlement group Peace Now. An Israeli security official who was not authorised to speak publicly also said the plan had been approved, but details were not immediately released by Israel.

A statement by spokespersons of the foreign ministries of Ireland, Denmark, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain and Sweden said this afternnoon:

“We urge the Government of Israel to reverse its decision to advance plans for the construction of around 3,000 settlement units in the West Bank.

“We reiterate our strong opposition to its policy of settlement expansion across the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which violates international law and undermines efforts for the two-state solution.

“We call on both parties to build on steps taken in recent months to improve cooperation and reduce tensions. We reiterate our call to implement United Nations Resolution 2334 with all its provisions, with the aim of rebuilding trust and creating the conditions necessary for promoting peace.”

Israel’s plan came to light a day after the US voiced publicly its concern about Israeli settlements in the West Bank, saying it will “strongly oppose” such expansion on occupied Palestinian land.

It was the biggest announcement of its kind since the Trump administration, which tolerated settlement growth and abandoned the decades-long US position that the settlements were illegitimate.

Israel embarked on an aggressive settlement spree during the Trump years, advancing plans for more than 12,000 settler homes in 2020 alone, according to Peace Now, the highest number since it started collecting data in 2012.

The ministry’s higher planning council, which authorises West Bank construction, convened on Tuesday to authorise the new housing units, with roughly half of them getting final approval before building starts.

Israel is expected to discuss the approval of at least 1,300 Palestinian homes next week.

If confirmed, yesterday’s decision is bound to raise friction with the United States and Europe and anger the Palestinians.

It also seemed poised to test Israel’s fragile governing coalition of ultra-nationalists, centrists and dovish parties that oppose settlements after the 12-year rule of the former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Now, everybody knows that this is not a government of change, but this is a government with the same policy as Netanyahu to build more settlements, to deepen the occupation and to take us away from the chances for peace,” Ofran said.

Sabri Saidam, deputy secretary general of the Fatah Central Committee, turned his ire on the Biden administration and other countries protesting the plan, challenging the international community to “move from words to deeds and to express (their) views, by doing and not only condemning”.

Saidam added: “The Israeli government is implementing the so-called Trump plan, and the Biden administration is almost absent.”

On Tuesday, the US State Department said that it was “deeply concerned” about Israel’s plans to advance new settlement homes, including many deep inside the West Bank.

Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, protested the plan during a call with the Israeli defence minister, Benny Gantz, according to a senior US official who was not authorised to speak publicly.

At a press briefing the same day, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington: “We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements, which is completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm and damages the prospects for a two-state solution.”

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The Palestinians seek the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem — areas Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war — for their future state. The Palestinians view the settlements, which house about 700,000 Israelis, as the main obstacle to peace, and most of the international community considers them illegal.

Israel views the West Bank, home to more than 2.5 million Palestinians, as the biblical and historical heartland of the Jewish people.

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