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Belgian FM voices concern over Israeli settlement expansion

The picture taken on April 14, 2016 shows a partial view of the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev near the West Bank city of Ramallah. © AFP

Belgium has expressed concern over Israel’s persistent expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories, which erodes the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders embarked on a three-day visit to the Middle East on Sunday, visiting the West Bank city of Ramallah where he met his Palestinian counterpart Riyad al-Maliki.

Reynders supported a French proposal to hold an international conference in Paris on May 30 in a bid to resume talks between Palestinians and Israelis by the end of the year.

“We are supporting the French initiative because we need to do something, we need to have at least a conference,” he said, adding that Belgium was ready to attend the event. 

The May conference will include the Middle East Quartet (the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations), the Arab League, the UN Security Council and about 20 countries.

Maliki said that during the Sunday meeting with Reynders, they “discussed how settlement really eats up the possibility of reaching a two state solution.”

The Palestinian Authority is reportedly under pressure from France and other countries to freeze its effort to push for a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

According to senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, France is pressing the Palestinians to suspend the effort on the grounds that it would undermine French attempts to convene the peace conference this summer.

The United Nations and most countries regard the Israeli settlements as illegal because the territories were captured by Israel during a war in 1967 and are hence subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbid construction on occupied lands.

The presence and continued expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine has created a major obstacle to efforts to establish peace in the Middle East.

The Palestinians want the West Bank as part of its future independent state, with East al-Quds (Jerusalem) as its capital.

More than half a million Israelis live in over 230 illegal settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds.

According to the daily Maariv, the Israeli regime will present a bill to the Knesset in the coming weeks, calling for the annexation of 60% of the occupied West Bank.

Preliminary talks have been held to annex Area C of the West Bank where more than 350,000 illegal Israeli settlers are based, the Israeli newspaper has revealed. 

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