March 4. 2024. 7:29

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Israel planning massive expansion of Jewish settlements on West Bank

Israel’s right-wing government is pushing ahead with plans for a massive expansion of West Bank Jewish settlements despite international criticism.

This week the government agreed to authorise nine illegal West Bank hilltop outposts, in effect creating nine new settlements – a measure previous governments have been reluctant to endorse, fearing criticism from the international community, which considers all Jewish communities in the West Bank illegal under international law.

Nine communities were chosen from scores of illegal outposts because nine Israelis have been killed in recent Palestinian attacks.

In addition, plans for almost 10,000 new homes in existing settlements will be brought for approval next week.

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US secretary of state Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and Italy issued a statement expressing deep concern about the Israeli government’s plan.

This is the first time the US and key European states co-ordinated their response, warning that the Israeli moves harm chances of a two-state solution and will impact negatively on Israel’s integration into the region.

The main advocate for Jewish settlement in the current government is the far-right Religious Zionist party, headed by finance minister Bezalel Smotrich.

This week the party held its weekly parliamentary faction meeting at Givat Harel, one of the outposts that was authorised. After describing the government decision as an unprecedented victory for the settlement movement, Mr Smotrich went on to dismiss the international criticism.

“I hear the criticism from our good friends overseas and I am saddened. Our hold on areas of the homeland and developing settlements should be admired and seen as a miracle, not denounced. Our enemies want to weaken us and to murder us, but they won’t be successful,” he said.

National security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who like Mr Smotrich also lives in a Jewish settlement, urged the US and Europe to “stop being worried”.

“The land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel,” he said. “Nine settlements is nice. But it’s still not enough. We want many more.”

The Palestinians are pushing for the United Nations Security Council to condemn Israel’s settlement drive.

“The council must speak with one voice to send a clear and firm message to Israel, the occupying power, that its grave violations will not be tolerated, that it must cease all illegal policies and measures forthwith,” said Palestinian ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour.

The anti-settlement NGO Peace Now described the decision as a ‘horror show’.

“Smotrich and his extremist friends are racing towards annexation and spilling 700 litres of petrol on the possibility of reaching a diplomatic agreement and a better future.

“Today it is clear that the judicial coup is only the opening act to a messianic coup in the occupied territories,” it said, in reference to controversial judicial reform plans by the Israeli government that opponents describe as a threat to democracy.