European Union flags.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In an unusually harsh statement, the European Union warned Israel on Tuesday that the Settlements Bill “entrenched a one state reality” and that with its passage, the Knesset had crossed into dangerous territory.
The Palestinians pledged to turn to the international courts as the Foreign Ministry tried to do damage control by issuing talking points to embassies around the word.
French President Francois Hollande spoke against the measure when he met in Paris with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
If the legislation is affirmed by Israel’s High Court of Justice, it “would open the way to the annexation of the occupied territories,” Hollande said, adding that such a move is contrary to the two-state solution” and he hopes Israel would amend the text.
Abbas told Hollande the law “legalizes stealing Palestinian private land in favor of settlers and legalizes, retroactively, settlements which were built on occupied Palestinian lands. This law is contrary to international law. It’s an aggression against our people.”
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini said, “This law crosses a new and dangerous threshold by legalizing under Israeli law the seizure of Palestinian property. In passing this new law, the Israeli parliament has legislated on the legal status of land within occupied territory which is an issue that remains beyond its jurisdiction. Should it be implemented the law would further entrench a one-state reality of unequal rights, perpetual occupation and conflict.”
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov told AFP News Agency that the law helps open the door to annexation. “This is the first time the Israeli Knesset legislates in the occupied Palestinian lands and particularly on property issues.” That crosses a very thick redline,” he said, and added that it also increased the possibility of the International Criminal Court ruling on the issue of West Bank settlements.
The White House, in contrast, was largely silent, with press secretary Sean Spicer stating it would be discussed between US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when the two meet in the White House on February 15.
The Israeli Right cheered the law, which retroactively legalizes some 4,000 settler homes built on private Palestinian property, while offering compensation to the landowners. They hope it would prevent any future forced demolitions and evacuations, such as last week’s evacuation of the Amona outpost and next month’s scheduled demolition of nine homes in the Ofra settlement.
“Those settlers in Judea and Samaria that were sent by past governments to live there have suffered from a great deal of injustice over a long period of time,” Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said after the vote.
The Foreign Ministry, in the message it sent to its embassies, said the law addresses the issue of Israeli homes that had inadvertently been built on land that was not state-owned and that the majority of the construction took place decades ago. It added that the initial land owners would receive monetary compensation.
“This is a balanced solution for the owners of the lands, as well as for the families at risk of being evicted from and losing the homes in which they have lived for decades,” the Foreign Ministry said.
But French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault warned, “This law could exacerbate regional tensions. The law further harms the two-state solution.” He recalled that in January, some 75 countries and international organizations had affirmed that this option is the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He called on Israel to respect international law, which considers settlement activity to be illegal.
Great Britain warned Israel that its standing with its allies had been damaged. “It is of great concern that the bill paves the way for significant growth in settlements deep in the West Bank, threatening the viability of the two-state solution,” said British Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood on Tuesday. “As a longstanding friend of Israel,” Ellwood warned that the bill “damages Israel’s standing with its international partners.”
Just one day earlier, during a meeting at 10 Downing Street, British Prime Minister Theresa May told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United Kingdom opposes settlement activity.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday also condemned the legislation and reminded Israel that the Security Council had called on Israel to stop such activity in its December Resolution 2334.
Both governments, along with many others in the international community, believe that settlements are a stumbling block to peace.
In Jerusalem, Netanyahu spoke with visiting Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel about the nearly three-year freeze in the peace process.
“I think the problem for which we lack peace with the Palestinians is a simple truth – the persistent Palestinian refusal for the last 70 years, 68 years since Israel was established, to recognize a Jewish state in any boundaries,” he said. “This is the core of our particular conflict. I look forward to the day when we have Palestinians who are willing to recognize, finally, the Jewish state. That will be the beginning of peace and a great step forward to achieving it.”