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ConflictsMiddle East

Germany, US condemn Israel's settlement plans

February 14, 2023

Israel's government said it would legalize nine settlements in the occupied West Bank after recent attacks by Palestinians in Jerusalem. Several Western countries said they are "deeply troubled" by such a move.

The settlement of Eli in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
Far-right figures in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu's coalition have urged settlement expansion as a top priorityImage: Ariel Schalit/AP/picture alliance

In a joint statement on Tuesday, Germany, the US, the UK, France and Italy condemned Israel's decision to retroactively authorize several Jewish settler outposts in the occupied West Bank and construct thousands of new housing units within established settlements.

Foreign ministers from the five Western countries said in a statement that they "are deeply troubled by the Israeli government's announcement that it is advancing nearly 10,000 settlement units, and intends to begin a process to normalize nine outposts that were previously deemed illegal under Israeli law." 

"We strongly oppose these unilateral actions which will only serve to exacerbate tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and undermine efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution," the statement added.

The Western countries reiterated their support for "comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East" through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.   

How have Israelis and Palestinians reacted to Western concern? 

In response to the Western concern, Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir said in a video message on Tuesday that "nine settlements is nice but not enough."

"We want more," Ben-Gvir said. The far-right politician added that "the land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel."

Hussein al-Sheikh, the secretary general of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), welcomed the joint statement from the Western countries.

"We demand that words be turned to deeds, in an international will that compels Israel to stop its aggression and its measures, against the Palestinian people," al-Sheikh tweeted.

Israel makes settlement announcement after attacks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads a far-right coalition government, originally announced the settlement moves on Sunday following recent attacks carried out by Palestinians in Jerusalem.

On Friday, a Palestinian man rammed his vehicle into a East Jerusalem bus stop, leaving three people dead.

Several other attacks, including a shooting outside a synagogue, killed seven people and wounded several others last month, with Netanyahu vowing a "strong" response.  

In a statement on Sunday, Netanyahu's office said the security cabinet decided to "unanimously authorize nine communities" in the West Bank, adding that the move was "in response to the murderous terrorist attacks in Jerusalem."

The nine outposts were originally constructed in the West Bank without the permission of the Israeli government.

Netanyahu's office said it would also meet in the coming days to greenlight new settlement housing units, with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich saying some 10,000 housing units were set to be approved. 

Controversy over settlements

The United Nations and the International Court of Justice have classified Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal under international law. The German government and several other Western countries have also condemned Israel's settlement policies for contravening international law.

The Israeli government has argued with this characterization, saying it disregards history and ignores the unique legal circumstances of the settlement situation. 

In 2016, four of the UN Security Council's five permanent members — the UK, France, Russia and China —  voted in favor of a resolution deeming Israeli settlement actions as having "no legal validity" and constituting "a flagrant violation under international law." The US abstained from the vote on the resolution.  

During a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank in January, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that "settlement expansion" and the "legalization of outposts" are two examples of actions that make it harder to achieve a two-state solution.  

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis currently live in settlements in the occupied West Bank.

wd/rs (AFP, Reuters)

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