The United States administration led by President Donald Trump on Friday warned Israel on large-scale settlement building, refraining from criticism of a major project just approved but warning further expansion could block peace efforts.
“While the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace,” a White House official said.
The Palestinians and the United Nations earlier condemned the Israeli security cabinet’s approval of the first officially sanctioned new settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades.
The unanimous vote came late on Thursday even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu negotiates with Washington on a possible curb on settlement activity.
Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said the move showed the government was pushing ahead with “their systematic policies of settler colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing, showing a total and blatant disregard for Palestinian human rights.”
“Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace,” she said.
A spokesman for UN chief Antonio Guterres, expressed “disappointment and alarm” at the announcement.
“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,” Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
The new settlement will be constructed in an area called Emek Shilo, north of the former wildcat Jewish outpost known as Amona, which was razed in February in accordance with an Israeli High Court order.
The cabinet vote came after Netanyahu earlier told reporters: “I promised to create a new community and we are going to respect that commitment and create it today.”
It will be the first entirely new settlement that an Israeli government has approved since 1991, the anti-settlement NGO Peace Now said. In recent years, construction had focused instead on expanding existing settlements.
Peace Now said its location deep in the West Bank was “strategic for the fragmentation of the West Bank,” which Palestinians see as the bulk of their future state.
“Netanyahu is held captive by the settlers, and chooses his political survival over the interest of the state of Israel,” the NGO said.
But Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy for the umbrella body representing settlers, and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel welcomed the announcement.
The cabinet also invited tenders for nearly 2,000 new homes in existing settlements and discussed retroactively legalizing three outposts, Peace Now said.
The international community regards all Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as illegal and a major obstacle to Middle East peace.
The former US administration of Barack Obama was deeply opposed to Israel’s expansion of the settlements and in December withheld its veto from a UN Security Council resolution condemning the policy.
Trump, who had been widely seen in Israel as sympathetic towards settlements, appeared to surprise Netanyahu during a White House visit last month when he urged him to “hold back on settlements for a little bit”.
But establishing a new settlement may be a way for Netanyahu to appease far-right members of his coalition government who are likely to object to any concessions to US demands for restraints on building.