By BBC Middle East news
31 August 2016
Israel has approved the construction of 285 new homes at Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, according to the settlement watchdog Peace Now.
A 234-unit nursing home in Elkana, 30 houses in Beit Arye and 20 in Givat Zeev got the go-ahead on Tuesday.
Retrospective permits were also issued for 179 existing homes in Ofarim.
The US said it was “deeply concerned” and warned that settlement expansion posed a “very serious and growing threat” to peace with the Palestinians.
About 570,000 Israelis live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.
Peace Now reported that the latest planning decision by the Israeli military-run Civil Administration in the West Bank meant 2,623 housing units at settlements had been approved so far this year. The figure includes 756 illegally-built homes that have been retrospectively “legalised”.
A senior US official told the AFP news agency that settlement expansion – as well as continuing demolitions of Palestinian homes – “fundamentally undermines the prospects for a two-state solution and risks entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict”.
Josh Earnest, White House press officer, delivers the ‘rebuke’
“We are particularly troubled by the policy of retroactively approving illegal outposts and unauthorised settlement units,” the official said.
“These policies have effectively given the government’s green light for the pervasive advancement of settlement activity in a new and potentially unlimited way.”
On Tuesday, Israel reacted angrily to similar criticism of its settlement activities by the UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov.
“It is difficult to read in these actions a genuine intention to work towards a viable two-state solution. This appears to reinforce a policy, carried out over decades, that has enabled over half a million Israelis to settle in territory that was occupied militarily in 1967,” he told the UN Security Council.
A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Mr Mladenov of distorting history.
“Jews have been in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria for thousands of years and their presence there is not an obstacle to peace,” David Keyes said, using the biblical names for the West Bank.
There have been numerous rounds of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians since the early 1990s, with the last collapsing in acrimony in 2014.
Palestinian children play on the rubble of a building after Israeli bulldozers destroyed homes and a community centre in the West Bank village of Umm al-Kheir, August 24, 2016. Photo by Hazem Bader / AFP
By AFP/Arab News
WASHINGTON – The United States rebuked Israel on Wednesday over what it said was its accelerated building of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank in the face of mounting international concern.
“This significant expansion of the settlement activity poses a serious and growing threat to the viability of a two state solution,” President Barack Obama’s spokesman Josh Earnest said.
“We are particularly troubled by the policy of retroactively approving illegal outposts and unauthorized settlements,” he added, briefing reporters aboard Air Force One en route for China.
Washington has long been concerned that Israel’s building on occupied Palestinian land is undermining hopes for a Middle East peace deal, but Wednesday’s warning was unusually strongly worded.
An official said Israel’s actions ran counter to the advice laid out by the Middle East Quartet, a contact group comprising the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States.
“We are deeply concerned by the government of Israel’s announcement today to advance plans for over 500 new settlement units in the West Bank,” a senior official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“This significant expansion of the settlement enterprise poses a very serious and growing threat to the viability of the two-state solution,” he added, warning Israel could torpedo peace hopes.
The United States has urged Israel and the Palestinians to “take meaningful steps” to build trust, but Israel has instead promoted the building of thousands of new settlement homes.
“These policies have effectively given the government’s green light for the pervasive advancement of settlement activity in a new and potentially unlimited way,” the senior official warned.
“As the Quartet report, we are concerned about a systematic process of land seizures, settlement expansions and legalizations,” he said.
This, the official warned, “fundamentally undermines the prospects for a two-state solution and risks entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict.”
Israel has defended its settlement building, arguing that Jews have lived in the West Bank and Jerusalem — the divided city claimed by both Israel and Palestinians as a capital — for thousands of years.
But the US official warned the Israeli government risks undermining its own case with its aggressive settlement program and a “dramatic acceleration” in the demolition of Palestinian buildings.