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Netanyahu dismisses criticism over settlements expansion

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in the occupied Jerusalem (al-Quds) on July 3, 2016. (© Reuters)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed international condemnation of Israel's recent decision to construct several hundred new illegal settler units in the occupied Palestinian lands.

Speaking at a press conference with Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Kigali on Wednesday, Netanyahu rejected a rare US criticism that the settlements are preventing establishment of peace.

“We’re familiar with the American position; we don’t accept it. Building in Jerusalem (al-Quds) and Ma’aleh Adumim is not, with all due respect, distancing peace,” Netanyahu said.

He also repeated Israel's call for direct talks with the Palestinians “with no preconditions,” which Palestinians reject as long as to the settlement expansion continues.

Netanyahu’s remarks came a day after US State Department spokesman John Kirby rebuked Israel’s "systematic" land seizures and its plans to construct 800 settler units in the West Bank and East al-Quds.

The units would “be the latest step in what seems to be a systematic process of land seizures, settlement expansions and legalizations of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution,” he said.

A partial view taken on May 23, 2016 shows the Israeli settlement of Har Homa (top) from the Palestinian city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. ©AFP

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday sharply criticized Israel’s settlement expansion activities.

“This raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by continuing statements of some Israeli ministers calling for the annexation of the West Bank,” Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

The settlements are "illegal under international law,” he said, urging Israel “to halt and reverse such decisions in the interest of peace and a just final status agreement.”

Last week, the so-called Quartet on the Middle East, which comprises the United States, the EU, the UN and Russia, said Israel should cease the settlement expansion.

The UN and most countries regard Israeli settlements as illegal because the territories they are built on are part of the West Bank captured by Israel in a war in 1967.

Palestinians want the West Bank as part of their 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.

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