EU blasts Israel for approving “illegal” settlement construction

A young settler takes a lunch break at the West Bank settlement of Shvut Rachel, opposite Shiloh. (Kobi Gideon/FLASH90)

JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—European Union Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton on Thursday condemned Israel’s approval of new home construction in the West Bank settlement of Shilo, insisting that all Israeli settlements are “illegal under international law.”

“Settlements are illegal under international law. In addition the Quartet Roadmap states that Israel should not only freeze all settlement activity, but also dismantle those settlements erected since March 2001,” Ashton said in a statement.

She was reacting to the Defense Ministry’s preliminary approval on Tuesday of a plan to build 600 new homes in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh, including apparent retroactive approval for construction in the adjoining Shvut Rachel illegal outpost.

Israel’s move also aroused a protest from the Palestinian Authority, which has demanded an end to settlement construction before returning to negotiations. It might also impinge on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s upcoming summit with US President Barack Obama in Washington on March 5.

“The High Representative calls on Israel to respect its obligations under the Roadmap and reverse this decision,” Ashton’s statement said, adding that it is “particularly important at this point that neither party in the Middle East peace process undertakes provocative actions which undermine the prospects for continuing the dialogue which was re-established in January.”

This point was echoed by the US State Department, whose spokesman, Mark Toner, said: “We don’t believe it’s in any way constructive to getting both sides back to the negotiating table.”

Israel made no comment, but one official said off the record that the project is only in the “embryonic” phase and would require “multiple stages of authorizations,” including approval at the highest level, which would likely take years to complete.