Israel’s approval of 1,200 new settlement homes on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem has been met with international disapproval. Both the UN and the EU have condemned the move. US secretary of state John Kerry said that it was expected, though continued that he still considers the settlements ‘illegitimate’. He also asked the Palestinians not to react ‘adversely’ to the news.
Around 500,000 Israelis live in 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law.
The move threatens the second round of renewed peace talks on Wednesday in Jerusalem. Palestinians have accused Israel of sabotage. The thorny issue led to the breakdown of previous peace negotiations three years ago.
“Everything is in crisis mode. The moment the Israelis start moving towards more settlements and give the settlements preferential or priority standing or rating for development and for grants and for support, it means that Israel is acting as if it has already annexed the West Bank,” explained Hanan Ashrawi, working fellow at the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The move aimed to sweeten far-right allies of the Israeli prime minister, after he announced the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, out of a total of 104 to be freed in four stages.
As Palestinians prepared for their loved ones’ return, the Israeli families of victims killed by attacks for which the prisoners were convicted feel betrayed.
“The murderers are not getting punishment. They should (have got) be in death penalty or at least serve a life sentence and not get (out) after 20 years with a victory in their hand,” claimed Meir Indor, Head of Almagor, organisation that represents Israeli victims of Palestinian attacks.
Two of the prisoners released would have finished their sentences within six months, and six others over the next three years.
Hundreds of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to protest against the release of the men convicted in Israel of carrying out attacks in the country.
The release has stirred strong emotions on both sides, echoing the divided narratives of the conflict.