The United Nations, UK and US are condemning a new wave of “deeply troubling” construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Tobias Ellwood, the foreign office minister, said the planned construction of up to 300 new homes for Jewish settlers was a violation of international law, while American officials said the move undermined attempts at lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
But the Israeli government said only 98 new housing units had so far been approved, in the West Bank settlement of Shilo, and “would not change its municipal boundary”.
A spokesperson for the foreign ministry said they were to accommodate families evicted from an unauthorised outpost of settlers in Amona, where they had built illegally on private land owned by local Palestinians.
The settlement has been the subject of several long-running court cases, with the Israeli Supreme Court ordering the government in December 2014 to completely evacuate and demolish the buildings within two years, after awarding Palestinian claimants thousands of dollars in compensation.
The 98 houses approved by the Civil Administration Planning Commission so far are part of a wider plan for up to 300 housing units and an industrial zone, in an area already inhabited by more than 4,000 Israeli settlers.
“Israel remains committed to a solution of two states for two peoples, in which a demilitarised Palestinian state recognises the Jewish state of Israel,” a spokesperson for the Israeli foreign ministry said.
“The real obstacle to peace is not the settlements – a final status issue that can and must be resolved in negotiations between the parties – but the persistent Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state in any boundaries.”
But the construction provoked further alarm in the international community as a year-long wave of violence and security crackdowns continues, with 34 Israelis and two Americans killed in Palestinian attacks and at least 218 Palestinians killed by the Israel Defence Forces, who said the vast majority were attempting stabbings.
A spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said he was concerned that “the establishment of a new settlement near Shilo will make the prospect of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state more remote”.
”The Secretary-General urges Israel to halt and reverse such counterproductive decisions in the interests of peace and a just final status agreement,“ he added.
Mr Ellwood said the British Government condemned the plans as “the latest example of a series of worrying new settlement announcements in recent months”.
He added: “Settlements are illegal under international law. As underlined in the July report of the Middle East Quartet, settlement activity undermines trust and makes a two-state solution much harder to achieve.”
The American government issued unusually strong statements in the wake of last month’s agreement to hand Israel $38bn (£30bn) in military aid over the next 10 years.
Josh Earnest, the spokesperson for the White House, said every US administration since 1967 has opposed Israeli settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territories and that Barack Obama’s administration believed the construction undermines a two-state solution.
Mr Earnest said Wednesday’s announcement contradicted assurances made by Israeli officials, adding: ”The actions of the Israeli government in announcing this settlement undermine the pursuit of peace.
“I guess, when we're talking about how good friends treat one another, that's a source of serious concern as well.”
Mark Toner, a spokesperson for the US State Department, said the plan was “another step towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation that is fundamentally inconsistent with Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state”.
”Such moves will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from many of its partners, and further call into question Israel's commitment to achieving a negotiated peace,” he added.
“It is deeply troubling, in the wake of Israel and the US concluding an unprecedented agreement on military assistance designed to further strengthen Israel's security, that Israel would take a decision so contrary to its long term security interest in a peaceful resolution of its conflict with the Palestinians.”
He added that the prospective development, closer to Jordan than Israel, would link a string of hardcore settler outposts to “effectively divide the West Bank”.
Saeb Erakat, a Palestinian MP and chief negotiator, said the proposal “affirms Israel's resolve to destroy the two-state solution”, and demanded the international community take action.
“Israel continues to impede international efforts to achieve peace in Palestine and the region amid the complete inaction by the international community to hold Israel accountable for the crimes it continues to commit against the land and people of Palestine,” he said. “Concrete measures and actions against all Israeli settlement activities should be taken in accordance with international law and United Nations resolutions.”
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