Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the regime will never abandon settlements in the Jordan Valley, defying international criticisms of Tel Aviv’s land grab policies.
“The Jordan Valley will always remain a part of Israel. We will continue to settle it, invest in infrastructure and tourism,” Netanyahu said during a speech at a ceremony marking 50 years of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and Jordan Valley area.
Over most of its length, the valley forms the border between Jordan to the east, and Israeli-occupied territories and the West Bank to the west. Tel Aviv occupied the region during the Six Day War in 1976, and quickly began building settlements there.
Netanyahu further describe the Jordan Valley as “a strategic defensive belt” for Israel, saying the regime will never evacuate the settlements it has build in the occupied area “because they are of utmost security importance to Israel.”
The comments came on the same day that anti-settlement monitoring group Peace Now released a new report, noting that plans for 6,742 settler units have been advanced in Palestinian territories in the West Bank this year.
Comparatively, 2,629 homes were approved in 2016 and 1,982 in 2015. Notably, some of the newly-approved settlements would be deep in the occupied West Bank.
In addition to this year’s settlement construction, another approximately 3,000 settler units have been approved by Israel for construction in the West Bank.
At the construction site of the new Amihai settlement in the West Bank, the Israeli minister for military affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, underscored Israel’s resolute intention to expand settlements on Wednesday, and praised the unprecedented number of construction permits issued by officials in Tel Aviv.
“First of all, we are at the Amihai site; look around at the work that is happening here... The time has come to tell the truth. We are working at a pace that we have not seen since the year 2000,” Lieberman said.
He explained that, to date in 2017, tenders had been issued for 3,000 new homes, and plans had been advanced for a total of 7,500 new homes. “Thank God, we have gotten to the kind of numbers we have not seen for a very long time.”
Europeans condemn Israeli land grab
Israel has been under fire by the entire international community, including its own allies, for continued construction on occupied land, which is forbidden under international law.
On Thursday, the EU in a statement called the settlement expansion “illegal under international law” and “detrimental to ongoing efforts towards meaningful peace talks.”
France also issued a strongly-worded statement against Israel’s plan for the construction of 3000 housing units in al-Khalil (Hebron) calling on Israel “to reverse this decision and to respect their international obligations.”
“The uninterrupted pursuit of the policy of colonization, confirmed by these new projects, only adds to the tensions on the ground and undermines the prospects for a just and lasting peace based on the two-State solution,” the statement added.
International law views the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds as occupied territories and considers all Israeli settlement-building activity there as illegal. Nevertheless, roughly 500,000 Israelis now live in more than 100 settlements built on these territories since 1967.
The German Foreign Ministry also called on Israel to refrain from more land grab, saying “settlements are not the only obstacle to a two-state solution” and denies the Palestinians “the ability to fully exercise their political rights.”
EU demands compensation from Israel
In another development, eight EU countries have prepared a letter to Israeli officials for compensation, demanding more than $35,000 from Israel due to the confiscation of solar panels they had installed in Bedouin Palestinian communities as well as the demolition of mobile structures they had built to serve as classrooms for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
The official protest letter, described by Israeli newspaper Haaretz as “the first of its kind,” is reportedly set to be delivered to senior Israeli Foreign Ministry officials within a few days.
Over the last few years, Israel has several times demolished structures built for Palestinians by European NGOs with funding from the European Union.
The EU countries stressed that if Israel does not unconditionally return the equipment it seized, then compensation will be demanded, according to the report. The letter also notes that the demolition and seizure of humanitarian equipment contravenes Israel’s obligations under international law.