Int’l criticism over Israel’s West Bank building

There has been widespread opposition from the West over the decision by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to authorize nine Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

By Erin Viner

Authorization of the newly recognized communities came in response to the latest surge of Palestinian terrorism.

They are the first to be approved by the new Netanyahu coalition, which includes several senior ministers who have long sought the further expansion of Jewish settlement in the disputed territories.

Besides the authorized settlements, groups of settlers have built scores of outposts without government permission. Some have been razed by the IDF or police, others authorized retroactively.

Expressing deep concern over the move, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and United States issued a joint statement.

“We strongly oppose unilateral actions which will only serve to exacerbate tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and undermine efforts to achieve a negotiated Two-State Solution,” they said, stressing, “We continue to support a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East, which must be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties.”

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly later stated that Ottawa also strongly opposes the expansion of settlements and added that “such unilateral actions jeopardize efforts to achieve comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”

Palestinian officials denounced the move as a provocation and called on world powers to back up verbal condemnation with action against Israel.

Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh welcomed the joint statement but insisted, “We demand that words be turned to deeds.”

Despite the widespread condemnation, Israeli Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir proclaimed intent to go even further.

“This is our mission. This is our doctrine,” said the senior member of the new hardline religious nationalist bloc. “Nine settlements is nice but it’s still not enough. We want much more,” he said in a video message.

Israel’s 1967 military victory reunited a then-divided Jerusalem after conquering the eastern portion of the city and parts of the West Bank from Jordan (in addition to the Golan Heights from Syria and Gaza from Egypt). Palestinians demand east Jerusalem and the West Bank for a future country as part of the so-called  “Two-State Solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Israel cites biblical, historical and political links as well as critical security interests in the West Bank districts of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley. Nevertheless, most international countries view the building of Jewish communities on the conquered territories as “illegal settlements,” and an impediment to resolving the conflict with the Palestinians – who want the land for their aspired state.

Refusal to implement a moratorium on building came just a week after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed Israel to do so.

There will be no construction freeze in Judea and Samaria – period,” responded the Israeli Religious Zionism party (RZP) headed by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich last week, following Blinken’s reiteration of Washington’s call for the Two-State Solution, in accordance with the Palestinian Authority’s own insistence for Israel to stop building.

In addition to the Finance Ministry, Minister Smotrich was also granted significant powers as part of his oversight of Defense Ministry organizations responsible for enforcing some regulations in the West Bank.

Residents of one of the nine -Beit Hogla, located between Jericho and the Dead Sea – celebrated news their outpost has been authorized.

“We had tears in our eyes. It was very joyful,” said Yagel Shmuel, a 31-year-old father of four who came to live in Beit Hogla seven years ago with four other families.

The formal recognition will make it easier to pave roads, and build schools for the settlement’s 100 children, said Shmuel. “We hope the government’s decision will bring us a lot of families and we can build here a big settlement.”

Ideological settlers believe they are pioneers redeeming land promised by God to the Jewish people. Legalizing outposts was one of the main promises Netanyahu’s Likud party made to their leaders in coalition deals following the 1 November election.

“This is the most important thing we have,” said Shmuel.

More than 450,000 people, slightly under 5% of Israel’s total population, live in about 140 Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria., among some 3 million Palestinians.