Peace cannot be achieved through the crime of Israeli settlement building, Palestinians warned as they condemned the Israeli government’s first approval of a completely new settlement in 25 years.“Israel continues to destroy the prospects of peace in our region and to severely affect our lives by the theft of land and natural resources, and by the further fragmentation of our country,” PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said on Friday.Palestinians also took issue with Israel’s decision to publish tenders for close to 2,000 new settler homes in the settlement blocs and to classify as state lands 977 dunams near the isolated settlement of Eli and the Palestinian city of Nablus. "With these actions Israel has shown that it aims to reinforce the odious Israeli occupation,” Palestinian Authority government spokesman Yousif Mahmoud told Wafa, the official Palestinian Authority news agency.France and the United Nations also spoke out against the Israeli Security Cabinet’s decision to approve a new settlement on Thursday night, which came right in the midst of a renewed US push to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."France firmly condemns these decisions which threaten peace and may exacerbate tensions on the ground,” the French Foreign Ministry said on Friday. Jordan’s King Abdullah plans to meet with US President Donald Trump in Washington on Wednesday, with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas scheduled for a White House visit later in the month or in early May.Israel’s subsequent statement after the cabinet meeting that it planned to constrain settlement activity in support of that initiative, did not lessen Palestinian and international anger.
The security cabinet said it would limit future building – where possible – to the built-up areas within existing settlements. This will be done in an effort to limit the “footprint” of the settlements. “Israel enjoys a culture of impunity that allows it to strengthen its apartheid regime in Occupied Palestine,” Erekat said.He added that the Palestinians would not accept any Israeli and American formula that would allow for any continued settlement building.For the last seven years the Palestinians have demanded that Israel freeze all settlement activity, including Jewish building in east Jerusalem, as a precondition to diplomatic talks. That demand was set aside during the nine-month US-led peace process that fell apart in April 2014, during which time Israel released Palestinian prisoners in exchange for settlement building.US criticism of settlement construction has long been that their expansion takes over more land of a future Palestinian state, an argument that Jerusalem believes loses much merit if all the construction is taking place within the existing built-up areas of the settlements. The new settlement approved Thursday night, however, will be located in the heart of the West Bank, in the area of the Shiloh settlement which is situated 27 kilometers over the pre-1967 lines. “All Israeli settlements are illegal and we are not going to accept any formula that aims at legitimizing the presence of Israeli colonies on occupied Palestinian land,” Erekat said. “Israel's colonial project violates international law and also previous Israeli commitments both under signed agreements and to the United States,” Erekat said.A senior official from the Trump Administration told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the US accepts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rationale for approving one exceptional new settlement because it was for the evacuees of Amona, an Israeli outpost in the West Bank that was dismantled in February.Netanyahu's initial promise to the 40 Amona families to build a new settlement for them was made in December, prior to Trump’s inauguration.UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Friday was not concerned with Netanyahu’s pledge. In a brief 75-word statement Guterres’s office said the Secretary General “took notice with disappointment and alarm” of Israel’s decision “to build a new settlement in the occupied Palestinian territory.”“The Secretary-General has consistently stressed that there is no Plan B for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace and security. He condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-state solution,” the statement read. “Settlement activities are illegal under international law and present an obstacle to peace.”Herb Keinon, Michael Wilner and Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.
Watch the UN debate: Are West Bank settlements a stumbling block to peace?