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Israel’s Approval of New Settlements Draws International Criticism | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Construction workers at a building site of new housing units in the Jewish settlement of Neve Yaakov, in the northern area of east Jerusalem in December 2016. (AFP)

Ramallah – United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed his disappointment over the recent Israeli decision to build a new settlement on land the Palestinians seek for a state.

He voiced his alarm at the development and condemned the move, his spokesman said on Friday.

Israel’s security cabinet on Thursday approved the building of the first new settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades, even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu negotiates with Washington on a possible curb of settlement activity.

“He condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-state solution,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the new settlement building threatens “to further undermine prospects for a viable two-state solution, which remains the only realistic way to fulfill the aspirations of both sides and achieve just and lasting peace.”

The White House appeared more accommodating to Israel’s plans for the new settlement, intended for some 40 families evicted from Amona, a West Bank outpost razed in February because it was built on private Palestinian land.

A White House official noted Netanyahu had made a commitment to the Amona settlers before US President Donald Trump and the Israeli leader agreed to work on limiting settlement activity.

Trump, who had been widely seen in Israel as sympathetic toward 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.”

The two then agreed that their aides would try to work out a compromise on how much Israel can build and where.

“The Israeli government has made clear that Israel’s intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes President Trump’s concerns into consideration,” a written statement from the official said.

Following Thursday’s announcement, Israeli officials said Netanyahu’s security cabinet decided out of respect for Trump’s peace efforts to limit construction in settlements to existing, built-up areas and not to expand beyond present boundaries.

The White House was informed in advance about the planned announcement of a new settlement as well as the Israeli policy shift and raised no objections, a person close to the matter said, signaling possible coordination between the two governments.

US and Israeli officials completed a round of talks on the settlements last week without agreement, saying the discussions were ongoing, and the two sides have yet to announce any final understanding on the issue.

Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, this week wrapped up a second trip to the region aimed at reviving peace talks that collapsed in 2014.

Palestinians want the West Bank and East Jerusalem for their own state, along with the Gaza Strip.

Most countries view Israeli settlement activity as illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees, citing biblical and historical ties to the land it captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as well as security concerns.

The possibility of reviving the peace talks will emerge following Trump’s separate talks later this month with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, Jordanian King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Informed Palestinian sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Palestinian Authority will not take any steps towards reviving negotiations until the outcomes of these meetings are clear.