Israeli settlement plans in the West Bank draw condemnation from US, UK, Europe

Palestinians criticise building of 75 new settlements, including one east of Jerusalem, amid the Middle East peace talks

Israeli settlement plans in the West Bank draw condemnation from US, UK, Europe

The United States and the UK have expressed concerns over Israeli plans to build 75 new settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The settlements, including one of them in an east Jerusalem neighbourhood, are said to be ahead of a scheduled security conference later this month in which the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, is due to attend.

News of the settlement plans, which have been condemned by officials and politicians from across the political spectrum in Europe, sent Israeli stock markets spiralling down over the weekend.

The Palestinians condemned the settlement construction, while calling on the international community to join the international consensus on a two-state solution.

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“These plans announced by the Israeli government continue to take its obligations to the two-state solution and peace seriously, but it is concerned by the steps by the Palestinian leadership to undermine these agreements,” said Emmanuel Nahshon, the Israeli minister for regional cooperation.

After the initial uproar, he said the plans were “simply to add new neighborhoods for Israeli citizens”.

The announcement of the planned settlement construction brought the US into the fray, with Pompeo tweeting the US could not remain “a bystander” to Israel’s settlement activity, and that decisions to build settlements had to be approved by the Israeli government.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

“Today’s announcement adds to the long list of recent announcements that have undermined any possibility of making peace,” Jen Psaki, the US state department spokeswoman, said in a statement.

“If government decisions are made to settle even more Israeli citizens in the West Bank, that represents an unfitness for the US to continue as an honest broker.”

Britain warned that “Israel’s policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are an obstacle to a two-state solution, including creating facts on the ground”.

“Both Palestinians and Israelis have a stake in a peaceful outcome, including a two-state solution,” a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

French president Emmanuel Macron said earlier that “if the secretary of state was not here, he would have to reject the list of new settlements which the Israeli government has just published. I am also saying it with regret.”

France said it considered all of the West Bank to be occupied territory “and thus it must be subject to negotiations and action by the international community”.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (@JunyLeDrian) Israel’s move on new settlements undermines prospects for a just and lasting peace.

Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, denounced the settlements on social media, describing them as a “dangerous escalation”.

He added that Palestinian would encourage and promote “peaceful resistance against occupation and settlement”.

Polls indicate that most Israelis support settlement expansion. Both Jewish homebuilders and politicians have the green light from the government to build, notwithstanding the fact it is illegal under international law.

The more than 500,000 settlers living in the occupied territory are considered illegal under international law.

But Netanyahu has come under political pressure to deliver on peace talks with the Palestinians which he has long refused to hold.

The prime minister surprised many last month when he signed a unity agreement with the ultra-rightwing Jewish Home party. A junior partner in his cabinet, Jewish Home, supports annexing large swathes of the West Bank and wants to relocate the national security agency to Jerusalem.

The deal could lead to a government of about 100 members, with a US diplomat having reportedly been dispatched to Israel to prepare Trump for the possibility that Netanyahu might be forced to step down.

Rising tensions between Israel and the Trump administration have cast doubt on the president’s commitment to the two-state solution, a longstanding bedrock of US Middle East policy and British and European policy since the 1990s.

In January, Trump warned Israel that “something should happen”, signalling that Washington could cut funding to the UN and international aid organisations.

Both the Israeli prime minister and Trump have said they do not consider the Trump team to be the problem.

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