| 3 December 2023, Sunday |

Israeli government lifts ban on return to West Bank settlements

By revising a 2005 law that ordered their evacuation, the Israeli Knesset on Tuesday made it possible for Jewish settlers to return to four settlements in the occupied West Bank. This action was denounced by the Palestinian Authority and the European Union.

Jewish settlers would be able to return to four West Bank settlements they were forced to leave in 2005 subject to Israeli military clearance if specific provisions in an earlier disengagement law were repealed.

Yuli Edelstein, head of the Israeli parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, hailed the move as “the first and significant step towards real repair and the establishment of Israel in the territories of the homeland that belongs to it”.

Since the 1967 war, Israel has established around 140 settlements on land Palestinians see as the core of a future state, where more than 500,000 settlers now live. Besides the authorized settlements, groups of settlers have built scores of outposts without government permission.

Most world powers deem settlements built in the territory Israel seized in the 1967 war as illegal under international law and their expansion as an obstacle to peace, since they eat away at land the Palestinians claim for a future state.

The parliamentary vote, one of the first major steps by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition, came days after Israeli and Palestinian officials agreed on moves to curb violence and incitement amid escalating tensions.

The Palestinian Authority swiftly denounced the decision.

“This is a condemned and rejected decision and it is contrary to all resolutions of international legitimacy,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Reuters.

Washington was “extremely troubled” by the move, deputy State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters, reiterating the U.S. position that “advancing settlements is an obstacle to peace and the achievement of a two-state solution.”

“Coming at a time of heightened tensions, the legislative changes announced today are particularly provocative and counterproductive to efforts to restore some measure of calm as we head into Ramadan, Passover, and the Easter holidays,” Patel said. read more

In its own condemnation on Tuesday, the European Union said the Knesset decision was “counter-productive to de-escalation efforts” and “a clear step back” from a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We call on Israel to revoke this law and take actions that contribute to de-escalation of an already very tense situation,” an EU spokesperson said in a statement.

  • Reuters