EU says Israeli settlements illegal under international law
BRUSSELS - The EU on Wednesday demanded Israel reconsider plans for nearly 1,300 settler homes in the West Bank, saying they were illegal under international law and undermined the prospects for peace.
Israeli authorities approved another large set of plans for settlement homes in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, bringing the total for the week to more than 2,600, settlement watchdog Peace Now said.
Some 1,323 settlement housing units were given a green light on Wednesday, while 2,646 have been advanced this week, it said, as part of a government push to expand West Bank settlement construction.
The plans passed this week are at various stages in Israel's complex approval process.
Peace Now said the settlement push was "distancing us daily from the possibility of a two-state solution".
"The government is sending a clear message to settlers: Build illegally and anywhere and we will find a solution for you," it said in a statement.
The approvals came after government officials pledged a major boost in settlement home approvals this year, with US President Donald Trump so far much less critical of such plans than his predecessor Barack Obama.
Israeli officials say a total of around 12,000 housing units will be given various stages of approval this year, four times the amount in 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads what is seen as the most right-wing government in Israel's history, and settlement advocates wield heavy influence in his ruling coalition.
But the EU condemned the step, restating its position that settlement activity was "illegal under international law" and damaged "the viability of the two-state solution and the prospect for a lasting peace".
"The European Union has requested clarifications from Israeli authorities and conveyed the expectation that they reconsider these decisions, which are detrimental to ongoing efforts towards meaningful peace talks," an EU statement said.
The bloc voiced particular concern about proposals to build settler homes in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron for the first time since 2002 and about the start of preparatory groundwork in the east Jerusalem area of Givat Hamatos.
Construction in Givat Hamatos would "severely jeopardise the contiguity and viability of a future Palestinian state", the EU said, adding that it would continue work with international and regional partners to try to restart dialogue.
Trump is seeking to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which collapsed in 2014 following the failure of an earlier US-led initiative.
Settlement building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War (a move never recognized by the international community), is seen as a major obstacle to peace as the homes are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.