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EU postpones diplomatic summit with Israel in opposition to settlement expansion

Feb. 7, 2017 9:27 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 8, 2017 3:22 P.M.)
Palestinians walking near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, in the occupied West Bank, on April 7, 2015 � AFP Abbas Momani
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Following the passage of the outpost “Regularization bill” in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, late on Monday which retroactively legalizes Israeli settler outposts on occupied Palestinian land, a summit scheduled for Feb. 26 between Israel and the European Union (EU) was postponed.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz cited anonymous diplomats who reportedly said that several EU member states opposed continuing with the summit in light of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans of advancing some 6,000 Israeli settler units on occupied Palestinian land, and the widely condemned passage of the Regularization law.

The controversial legislation passed its final reading late on Monday evening with 60 votes in favor to 52 against.

The law states that any settlements built in the occupied West Bank “in good faith” -- without knowledge that the land upon which it was built was privately owned by Palestinians -- could be officially recognized by Israel pending minimal proof of governmental support in its establishment and some form of compensation to the Palestinian landowners.

The EU meeting, which had already been postponed for five years, was reportedly aimed at “setting out a work plan and priorities for improving relations between the sides,” according to Haaretz.

Haaretz reported that France, Sweden, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Finland had all opposed the meeting following the vote to legalize Israeli settler outposts, and referenced Netanyahu's recent plans to dramatically expand government-approved Israeli settlements.

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has repeatedly stated that the Regularization law contravenes both Israeli and international law and that the Israeli Supreme Court would likely strike it down. Several Israeli NGOs have already indicated that they plan to challenge the law in front of the Supreme Court.

While settler outposts constructed in occupied Palestinian territory were considered illegal by the Israeli government, each of the some 196 government-approved Israeli settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have also been established in direct violation of international law.

Shortly after the legislation was approved, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said that the law was “legaliz(ing) theft of Palestinian land.”

“All Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine are illegal and a war crime regardless of any law passed by the Israeli parliament or any decision taken by any Israeli judge,” Erekat added in a written statement. “It is overdue time to stop treating Israel as a state above the law.”

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi stated that the law gave “clear license to the settlers to embark on a land grab in the occupied West Bank with impunity.”

“Such a law signals the final annexation of the West Bank,” she said. “This also proves beyond doubt that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his extremist, racist coalition government are deliberately breaking the law and destroying the very foundations of the two-state solution and the chances for peace and stability.”

While members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, Israeli leaders have instead shifted further to the right, with more than 50 percent of the ministers in the current Israeli government publicly stating their opposition to a Palestinian state.

A number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace given the existing political context, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.
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