UN envoy criticizes Israeli plan to expand settlement

JERUSALEM (AP) – The United Nations envoy to the Middle East said Monday that he is “very concerned” by the Israeli decision to advance construction on a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem that would further complicate the formation of a neighboring Palestinian state.

The decision could also anger the next US government, which opposes settlement expansion and hopes to reignite negotiations on a two-state solution.

The Israeli Territorial Authority announced on its website on Sunday that it had opened tenders for the construction of more than 1,200 new homes in Givat Hamatos, according to the Israeli anti-establishment group Peace Now.

“If built, it will further consolidate an arc of settlements between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank,” Nickolay Mladenov, UN envoy to the Middle East peace process, said in a statement.

“It would significantly damage the prospects of a future contiguous Palestinian state and of reaching a negotiated two-state solution based on the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the capital of the two states. The construction of settlements is illegal under international law and I ask the authorities to revoke this step, ”he added.

The Palestinian Authority and the European Union foreign policy officer have also criticized the move. The Palestinians want to form a state that includes East Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war, and see the settlements as a major obstacle to peace.

Almost 500,000 settlers now live in the West Bank, and more than 220,000 in East Jerusalem. The Palestinians point out that the growth of that population is forcing the possibilities of creating their state.

Israel has long rejected criticism of its settlement policy, but the decision to go ahead with construction in Givat Hamatos could affect its relations with US President-elect Joe Biden, who has promised to have a more neutral strategy in the conflict.

Outgoing President Donald Trump has provided unprecedented support for Israel, including abandoning the traditional American position that the settlements are illegitimate. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to visit a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank this week, in a striking break with his predecessors, who frequently criticized settlement building.