Palestinians and the UN have slammed Israel’s approval of the first officially sanctioned new settlement in the occupied West Bank for over two decades.
Announced despite talks with Washington on possibly curbing settlement activity, it has been presented as part of a policy of restraint – Israeli political sources saying the new construction in an area called Emek Shilo would actually take place within the boundaries of an existing settlement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pledged to accommodate Jewish families evicted in February from an outpost ruled to have been illegally built on private Palestinian land.
But Hanan Ashrawi, an executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, condemned the move, saying: “Today’s announcement once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace.”
Such settlements, in territory that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, are deemed illegal by most of the world. Israel cites biblical, historical and political links to the land, as well as security interests, to defend its actions.
A new settlement would be the first built in the West Bank since 1999. About 400,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank which is also home to 2.8 million Palestinians. Another 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem.
Palestinians want the West Bank and East Jerusalem for their own state, along with the Gaza Strip.
Tensions ran high on Thursday as Palestinians staged their annual Land Day commemoration, marking the killing of six Israeli Arabs by Israeli security forces in 1976, amid protests over the confiscation of land.