Israeli building in two settlements in Gush Etzion revealed as Brussels and Paris urge ‘creative ideas’ to prevent new building in occupied territory
In the shadow of US president Donald Trump’s rare and sympathetic voice for Israel, government officials in Jerusalem have unveiled plans to build 1,720 new homes in two settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The plan prompted condemnation from Washington and London, while a senior European diplomat said the plan was “wrong in principle and counterproductive to genuine efforts to restart the peace process”.
These weeks have been testing times for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, following a wave of mass protests in the occupied territories and fears he may face opposition to his re-election bid in May’s general election.
The Trump administration, by contrast, has sent a mixed signal to Israel over the future of the West Bank. The US president has been full of praise for Netanyahu, but he has made clear that achieving peace with the Palestinians would take priority.
Briefing reporters in Jerusalem on Sunday, Israeli government officials said there was “no doubt” that plans by the Defence Ministry to construct 1,750 new homes in two settlements in the West Bank would be implemented.
The plans, which have been approved by the planning committee, are the latest step in a recent ramp-up of settlement building. The plan includes 672 homes in Gilo and 74 in Pisgat Zeev, said a defence ministry official, who asked not to be named. Gilo is a settlement next to Jerusalem’s international airport.
Gilo, built in 1981, has about 1,700 homes, all of which are built on the land of another Palestinian family. The area is prone to violence. Gilo residents have been accused of arson attacks. The mayor of Gilo denies any involvement.
The two settlements stand next to each other in the vicinity of Jerusalem’s Old City. In a statement, the US said it was “extremely disappointed” by the news of the planned building in Gilo and Pisgat Zeev.
“These announcements of new Israeli housing announcements just ahead of the elections in Israel are detrimental to the prospects for peace, and the US will use every available political, diplomatic, and economic tool to oppose these construction plans,” the statement said.
Ilan Goldenberg, a Middle East analyst at the Washington-based Centre for a New American Security, said: “The confirmation of a bigger settlement is not at all unexpected. The question is: is it the kind of move to change the political dynamics a bit?”
Goldenberg added: “I think it’s definitely a hard thing for Netanyahu and his settlement partners to ignore this kind of news. They’re certainly interested in trading in public support for a lot of settlement activity that they already had – even if they prefer more like a foot in the door and less in the coffin – and this could be it.”
The European Union expressed “grave concern” and called on Israel “to take all possible measures against any obstacle to the two-state solution including all settlement activity, which remains an obstacle to achieving the peace envisioned in international law and to a comprehensive and just solution”.
“Accordingly, we call on the Israeli government and relevant authorities to respect international legal obligations with respect to the establishment of the Palestinian state and to prevent any situation, including settlement activity, that would not contribute to this goal,” said a spokeswoman for the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini.