Israeli Ministers Defend Settlement Construction Amid Global Criticism
Two Israeli Cabinet ministers, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, have dismissed global criticism of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. The ministers have instead promised to double down on the construction and legalise dozens of wildcat outposts in the occupied territory. The United States expressed opposition to the move, while four European countries also added their criticism. The Israeli ministers reaffirmed their commitment to expanding Israeli authority in lands that Palestinians seek for a future state.
Defiant Ministers Stand by Expansion Plans
The statements by the two ministers come after Israel announced its plans to build 10,000 new homes in existing settlements in the West Bank and retroactively legalise nine outposts. The joint statement by foreign ministers of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the US expressed deep concern over the announcement, opposing unilateral actions that could exacerbate tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel’s Arab neighbours, Jordan and Egypt, as well as Saudi Arabia and Norway, also expressed grave concern and strong opposition to the new settlement plans.
New Government Tests Close Ties
Israel’s new government, comprising a majority of ultranationalists who oppose Palestinian statehood, has declared settlement construction a top priority. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Smotrich authority over the defence body responsible for planning for both settlements and Palestinian construction in parts of the West Bank where Israel maintains civilian control. Smotrich has vowed to “normalise” life for more than 500,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, erasing the differences between living in a settlement and within Israel's internationally recognised border, effectively annexing West Bank territory.
International Opposition, No Consequences
Despite years of accumulated frustration and escalating rhetoric over Israel's fast-expanding settlements, the US and European Union have avoided taking serious action. The joint statement by the foreign ministers did not mention any potential consequences. However, the new government could still test Israel's closest ties as such a move would draw widespread backlash. Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. Most of the international community considers Israeli settlements illegal and an obstacle to peace. Some 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.