Israel drew international criticism over its military operation in Jenin that killed five Palestinians and its acceleration of West Bank settlement activity, as right-wing politicians called for a large-scale operation in northern Samaria to root out terror.
The European Union “is strongly concerned by [the] latest events in Jenin,” the bloc’s spokesperson Peter Stano tweeted on Monday night. “Military operations must be proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law,” he said.
The “EU also calls on Israel not to proceed with plans for more construction in settlements, these are illegal [and an] obstacle to peace,” he added.
The United Arab Emirates foreign ministry condemned the strike on Jenin and called on Israel “to reduce escalation, and avoid steps that exacerbate tension and violence in the Palestinian territories.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (RZP), however, doubled down on the importance of IDF operations in the West Bank.
He said “the time has come to replace the pinpoint activity with a broader operation to eradicate the nests of terrorism in northern Samaria and to restore deterrence and security in the region.
“The time has come to bring in the air force,” he said, adding that he would demand a cabinet meeting on the matter.
But the bulk of the international attention remained focused on Israel’s announcement Sunday that it had removed diplomatic safeguards from its authorization process for the construction of West Bank settler homes. Approval from the upper echelon, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is now needed only once.
After that, the process remains under the sole control of Smotrich, who also holds a ministerial position in the Defense Ministry. It’s the first such change to the process in 27 years.
The government also scheduled a meeting of the Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria to advance plans for 4,560 new settlement homes.
'US deeply troubled'
US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller warned that such “unilateral actions... make a two-state solution more difficult to achieve and are an obstacle to peace.”
He spoke out in a special statement as US Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Leaf visited in the region.
“The United States is deeply troubled” by the decision to advance those plans and “similarly concerned by reports of changes to Israel’s system of settlement administration that expedites the planning and approval” of homes, Miller said.
According to the left-wing group Peace Now, one of the plans would retroactively legalize the Palgei Maim outpost as a new neighborhood of the Eli settlement in the Binyamin region. It said that there will be some 28 plans slated for 18 settlements, some of which would double and triple the size of the existing settlements.
Miller reminded Israel it had a responsibility to abide by commitments it made in February and March at summits in Jordan’s Aqaba and in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh. In Aqaba, Israel suspended settlement announcements for four months but now holds that it can move forward with such steps.
Miller called on Israel to “fulfill the commitments it made” in Aqaba and Sharm “and return to dialogue aimed at de-escalation.”
The Biden administration, which frowns on all settlement activity at any time, has insisted that Israel must refrain from such unilateral steps based on the Aqaba and Sharm process, which included officials from Israel, the PA, Egypt, Jordan and the US.
In Ramallah, PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Hussein el-Sheikh also called for an end to Israeli unilateral action when he met with Leaf. He urged her to “launch a political initiative that would force Israel and the Palestinians to adhere to their commitments to preserve the two-state solution.”
At the Knesset, Smotrich stood firm against the US, stating he would continue to develop all parts of the “Land of Israel in a clear and unapologetic manner.”
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said the settlement activity was a “flagrant violation under international law” and called on Israel to “halt and reverse such decisions.”
They are “a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace,” he said. “At a time of increased violence and fragility on the ground [and] the prolonged absence of a political process... such steps only push Israelis and Palestinians further apart and risk destabilizing an already highly tense situation on the ground,” he added.