The US is “deeply concerned” by Israel’s plans to recognize West Bank settlements

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken on Monday criticized a decision by the Israeli government to recognize at least nine West Bank settlements as part of Israel, saying such a move would exacerbate tensions with the Palestinians.

Blinken said in a statement that moves to legalize such settlements, which had previously been identified as illegal communities, “are increasing tensions and undermining prospects for a negotiated two-state solution.”

“We are deeply disturbed by Israel’s decision yesterday to reportedly advance nearly 10,000 settlement units and begin a process to retroactively legalize nine West Bank outposts that were previously illegal under Israeli law,” Blinken said in the statement.

“As I have said before, anything that takes us away from the vision of two states for two peoples is detrimental to Israel’s long-term security, its identity as a Jewish and democratic state, and our vision of equal levels of security and freedom, prosperity and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” the statement continued. “We call on all parties to avoid additional measures that could further escalate tensions in the region and to take practical steps that can improve the welfare of the Palestinian people.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday that the security cabinet had unanimously approved nine municipalities in the West Bank, and also called for new housing units to be built.

An immediate decision is not to be expected. The Israeli government must prove to the Israeli Supreme Court that the settlements were not built on private Palestinian land, The Times of Israel reported; Two of the settlements listed by Netanyahu have already been deemed illegal and are being built on private Palestinian land.

Most of the international community has long viewed Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal and has criticized their expansion as a threatening effort to negotiate a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

The former Trump administration reversed the longstanding US legal view on the settlements, with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying the State Department does not consider the Israeli settlements “inconsistent with international law.”

The Biden administration does not appear to reverse this view, but has described pushing any settlement activity by Israel as a provocation that undermines efforts to advance a two-state solution.

The Israeli Prime Minister said the announcement was in response to the recent high-profile terrorist attacks in Jerusalem.

Two of the most recent attacks that killed civilians were a car rammed at a bus stop in Jerusalem last Friday, killing a 6-year-old child and a 20-year-old man. The driver who was shot dead by Israeli police was identified as a 31-year-old who lived in a predominantly Palestinian village in east Jerusalem, according to Israeli police.

And at least seven people were killed in a shooting attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem late last month. The gunman was identified by Israeli security officials as a Palestinian from a village in east Jerusalem.

The terrorist attacks came in an atmosphere of rising Palestinian deaths, with 2022 being ranked as the “deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank” according to the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

Israeli security forces have been focused on countering a growing threat from Palestinian armed groups in the West Bank, which have thrived amid a security vacuum, with Palestinian security forces largely absent from the Palestinian Authority-controlled cities of Nablus and Jenin.

While Israeli security forces have killed people they describe as Palestinian terrorists in frequent security raids on these cities, many Palestinian civilians have also been killed and wounded in the crossfire.

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