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EU countries at UN criticise US’ shift on Israeli settlements

Washington’s U-turn on policy draws flak at UNSC; Vatican joins chorus of criticism

By Agencies - Nov 20,2019 - Last updated at Nov 20,2019

The minaret of a mosque stands on the foreground as the Israeli settlement of Tekoa (centre) is pictured on Tuesday near the Palestinian West Bank town of Bethlehem (AFP photo)

European members of the UN Security Council hit out Wednesday at the US decision to no longer consider Israeli settlements illegal, but stopped short of naming the US, Agence France-Presse reported. 

Also on Wednesday, UN Security Council members rebuked the US’ shift in policy regarding the illegitimacy of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, stressing it a violation of international law and a threat to the two-state solution, according to media reports. 

"Our position on Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, is clear and remains unchanged", Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Poland said in a joint statement. 

"All settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace."

“We call on Israel to end all settlement activity in line with its obligations as an occupying power,” they added before a Security Council meeting on the Middle East.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Israeli settlements were “not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” breaking with UN Security Council resolutions declaring the settlements to be illegal as they are built on occupied Palestinian land. 

The policy shift was welcomed by Israel but it puts the US at odds with virtually the whole of the rest of the international community. 

Courts in Israel have declared most major settlements legal. 

More than 600,000 Israelis live in settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, alongside more than three million Palestinians. 

The settlements remain one of the thorniest issues in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 


Vatican reiterates two-state solution


Meanwhile, the Vatican spoke out on Wednesday against the US decision to no longer consider Israeli settlements illegal, joining stiff international criticism of the policy reversal, AFP reported.

Without naming the US, the Holy See said in a statement that “recent decisions... risk undermining further the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the already fragile regional stability”.

“The Holy See reiterates its position of a two-state solution for two peoples, as the only way to reach a complete solution to this age-old conflict,” the Vatican said. 

The Holy See said it supported Israel’s right to live in peace and security within the borders that are recognised by the international community, and supported “the same right that belongs to the Palestinian people, which must be recognised, respected and implemented”.

Pope Francis, who arrived on Wednesday in Thailand ahead of a visit to Japan, has not himself directly addressed the issue.


Arab League to meet


The Arab League said it is to hold an urgent meeting Monday on the US announcement.

Hossam Zaki, the pan-Arab body’s deputy secretary general, said several members had backed a Palestinian Authority call for a ministerial meeting.
The PA’s permanent representative to the Arab League has condemned Washington’s change of position as “illegal”.

The Cairo-based Arab League has said the US shift was an “extremely adverse development”, AFP reported


Palestinian organisations closed


Israeli authorities closed several Palestinian organisations in Jerusalem Wednesday, including a television channel, AFP reported quoting Israeli minister and officials from the organisations.

The offices of Palestine TV — a channel funded by the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority — and an office of the Palestinian ministry of education were given orders to close for six months, staff members said on condition of anonymity.

The director of Al Araz production company that hosts Palestine TV was temporarily arrested, while a correspondent for the channel was summoned for questioning, these Palestinian sources said.

Israel’s Public Security minister Gilad Erdan confirmed the closure of offices used by Palestine TV and the education ministry.

The Palestinians condemned the closures.

“This is a continuation of the Israeli government’s campaign against everything Palestinian in occupied Jerusalem,” senior official Hanan Ashrawi said.

MADA, a Palestinian organisation that defends freedom of expression, said the closures were “part of Israel’s efforts to silence the media and prevent the Palestinian story from spreading, through a series of repressions against the media and journalists.”

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