United States, Britain and other countries ‘deeply concerned’ over Israel’s West Bank housing plans

Britain and the U.S. sharply condemned Israeli plans to build thousands of new housing units in the West Bank, voicing their concern about the potential impact on peacemaking efforts between Israel and the Palestinians. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. was “deeply concerned” by the announcement on Wednesday. Britain, for its part, said it was “extremely disappointed” by the decision to speed up expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he was “not disputing the fact that there has been a policy of expanding settlements in the past few years,” but that the construction announcement would not conflict with a decision by the International Court of Justice earlier this month that called on Israel to comply with international law. Netanyahu, who has maintained his coalition government despite losing his parliamentary majority in a March election, has repeatedly said that he does not want the country to engage in peace talks with the Palestinians until their leadership recognizes Israel as a Jewish state. “An alternative that is clear and legitimate and legal is the unitary state with real equality for all of the Israeli citizens and for the Palestinians,” he said.

Ties between Israel and the European Union have hit an all-time low, with the bloc imposing economic sanctions last year against several of Israel’s companies in protest against the country’s continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank. The decision to expand housing units by 35 percent in the Etzion bloc, just outside of Jerusalem, is seen as the first step in accelerating the process of building an uninterrupted barrier to the city, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.

Meanwhile, a senior official from the Palestinian Authority condemned the Israeli plans as a “slap in the face of the Palestinian people.” Palestinian minister Rula Maayah said: “The building is not new, but at the same time all settlement building, after the destruction and displacements, it shows that these settlers are granted citizenship and any state we have will be in the face of the settlers.”

The West Bank settlement population has more than tripled since 2001, from 232,000 to more than 942,000 people, and around 70 percent of the West Bank settlers live in the highly contentious area known as Area C of the West Bank. Under Israel’s partial agreement with the U.S. and the Palestinians, which allows about 120,000 Palestinians to reside in Area C and allow Israel to maintain security control of the area, Israel has not allowed residents of Israeli settlements in the area to benefit from tax revenues due to the Palestinian Authority.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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