Brussels and Washington on Wednesday (27 July) slammed as “provocative” Israeli plans to build hundreds of new settlement homes in annexed east Jerusalem, saying they seriously undermined the prospect of peace with the Palestinians.
“We are deeply concerned by reports today that the government of Israel has published tenders for 323 units in east Jerusalem settlements,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. “This follows Monday’s announcement of plans for 770 units in the settlement of Gilo.”
Israel has approved hundreds of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank, an official said yesterday (4 July), in a move denounced by UN chief Ban Ki-moon and likely to further raise tensions following a series of Palestinian attacks.
The homes would expand the Gilo settlement on the southern perimeter of east Jerusalem. They are part of a larger plan for around 1,200 units approved some three years ago, said Ir Amim, an NGO that monitors Israeli settlement activity.
The land where they are to be built requires technical approval known as “reparcelisation” by Jerusalem’s local planning and building committee in order for the process to advance, according to Ir Amim.
“Israel’s recent decision […] undermines the viability of a two-state solution,” said EU spokesperson David Kriss in a statement sent to media on Wednesday.
The announcement comes just weeks after the report of the Middle East Quartet called on Israel to abandon its settlement policy.
“The decision raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by the statements of some Israeli ministers that there should never be a Palestinian state. The EU calls on Israel to reverse this decision and to cease its settlement activity,” Kriss said.
“We remain troubled that Israel continues this pattern of provocative and counterproductive action, which raises serious questions about Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians,” Kirby added.
Palestinian leaders and the United Nations joined in condemning plans advanced this week for 770 new homes that would expand the Gilo settlement on the southern perimeter of east Jerusalem.
“The plans in question are not new, and were approved three years ago,” a statement from Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s office said.
“Recent deliberations in the municipal planning committee concerned technical details of plot distribution within the previously approved project.”
Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank are viewed as illegal under international law.
They are also considered major stumbling blocks to peace efforts as they are built on land Palestinians view as part of their future state.
A recent report by the diplomatic Quartet – the United States, European Union, Russia and the UN – said settlement expansion was eroding the possibility of a two-state solution to the conflict.
Israel should stop building settlements and the Palestinians should cease incitement to violence, the Middle East diplomatic quartet said in a much-awaited report Friday aimed at reviving peace talks.
Kirby also voiced concern about increased demolitions of Palestinian structures in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which reportedly left dozens of Palestinians homeless, including children.
“More than 650 Palestinian structures have been demolished this year, with more Palestinian structures demolished in the West Bank and east Jerusalem thus far than in all of 2015,” he said.
“As the recent Quartet Report highlighted, this is part of an ongoing process of land seizures, settlement expansion, legalisations of outposts and denial of Palestinian development that risk entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict.”
Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1967. It later annexed east Jerusalem, which Palestinians view as their future capital.
The status of Jerusalem has been among the most contentious issues in peace negotiations, which have been at a standstill since April 2014.