Netanyahu Halted Outpost Bill, but Not World's Diplomatic Wrath

A seemingly coordinated wave of condemnations arrived as soon as the Prime Minister promised settlers 851 new housing units in the West Bank.

As part of his attempts to press Likud ministers to vote against a bill geared at sanctioning West Bank settlements, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed the possible diplomatic backlash Israel could suffer is the legislation passed.

While Netanyahu managed to stop the bill, the compensation he offered settlers, in the form of 851 new West Bank housing units has triggered a wave of recent and severe condemnations.

Following the U.S. administrations initial condemnation, a seemingly coordinated wave of statements arrived, with Germany, Britain, France, and the European Union's Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton holding Israel responsible for the standstill in talks with the Palestinians.

U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague was possibly the most harsh, saying that London we appreciated "the Israeli Government’s efforts to avoid damaging legislation in the Israeli Knesset by voting against a bill to legalize West Bank outposts, the decision to move settlers from an illegal outpost by creating housing units in settlements elsewhere across the Green Line sets a dangerous precedent."

"Such outposts are illegal under both Israeli and international law and should be removed entirely," Hague added, saying that settlement construction was a violation of international law, hindered peace efforts, and should be stopped immediately.

"Continued systematic settlement activity, and repeated breaches by the Israeli Government of international law, is provocative, undermines the prospects of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and makes the two state solution ever harder to realize. It makes it increasingly difficult for Israel’s international friends to defend the Israeli Government's actions," he added.

Hague's statement as the German Foreign Ministry released a response of its own, saying that the "German government is very concerned about the Israeli announcement to build 851 new housing units in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The eviction or relocation of outposts -- as it has been announced in the past few days -- does not legitimize an increase in settlement construction elsewhere."

French officials sounded a similar message, with French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero saying in a statement that Paris reaffirms "that settlement activity is illegal under international law, undermines, on the ground, the foundations of the two-State solution and constitutes an obstacle to peace," said in a statement."

Ashton's statement joined the previous three, even calling Netanyahu to retract his statement concerning the 851 new West Bank homes.

“Settlements are illegal under international law and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. The EU Representative called on the Israeli Government to “exercise the highest sense of responsibility by reversing these decisions to demonstrate its commitment toward the peace process, in full respect of international law,” a statement from Ashton's office said.

It seems that Netanyahu can endure the condemnations from the U.S. and Europe, representing a international backlash much smaller than he would have experienced if the outpost sanctioning bill would have passed.

However, the harsh condemnations show the great frustration and anger among Israel's European allies over increased settlement activity. More and more EU states are facing heavy public pressure to take steps against it, such as marking products made in the settlements or banning them altogether.

Thus far, most EU governments aren't doing anything about it, with the exception of Britain, Ireland, and Denmark, who are all weighing measures on the matter.

But the trend is clear: as long as the diplomatic standstill lasts and settlement activity continues the threat of a European ban on settlement products and Israeli products increases from theory to tangible reality.

Settlers at the start of a three-day march from Ulpana to Jerusalem, June 4, 2012.
Emil Salman