Five countries – the U.K., Germany, France, Spain and Italy – condemned Israel's approval of plans to build thousands of new homes in West Bank settlements in a joint statement on Friday.
The statement said settlement expansion "violates international law and further imperils the viability of a two-state solution to bring about a just and lasting peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" and that it was "counterproductive" in light of Israel's recent normalization deals with the UAE and Bahrain.
"We therefore call for an immediate halt to settlement construction as well as to evictions and to demolitions of Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank," read the statement.
"We emphasize that we will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regards to Jerusalem, unless agreed to between the parties," it continued. "The suspension of plans to annex parts of occupied Palestinian territories must become permanent."
The European Union issued a similar statement, adding, "Against the background of normalization of relations between Israel, UAE and Bahrain, Israelis and Palestinians should seize this opportunity to take urgent steps to build confidence and restore cooperation along the line of previous agreements and in full respect of international law."
On Thursday, Israel pressed forward on plans for more than 3,000 West Bank settlement homes, making 2020 one of the most prolific years for settlement building, according to a settlement watchdog group.
Thursday's approvals, along with more than 2,000 new homes approved a day earlier, are part of a building boom that has gained steam during the presidency of Donald Trump.
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The move, welcomed by settler leaders, was heavily criticized by the Palestinians and the United Nations Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov.
The latest approvals raised the number of settlement homes to be advanced this year to more than 12,150, according to Peace Now. It is by far the highest number of approvals since Trump took office in early 2017 and the highest since Peace Now began recording the figures in 2012.
This includes a program to legalize five illegal outposts, including Mitzpe Dani, Harasha, Tapuach West and Pnei Kedem. Plans are also to advance the establishment of the controversial Samaria Gate industrial area, which has come under fire from environmental groups for effectively cutting an important wildlife corridor. It also includes the retroactive approval of an illegal motor park built in 2016 in the Jordan Valley.
The majority of the units approved, close to 2,000, were in the strategic area between the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Nablus. Another significant portion, 775, were in the settlements around Nablus. These include settlements that would effectively be enclaves in Palestinian territory under the Trump plan, in places like Yitzhar, Itamar, Alon Moreh and Bracha.
Peace Now views the new construction as “de facto annexation,” which threatens the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Instead of taking advantage of the agreements with the Gulf states and promoting peace with the Palestinians, (Netanyahu) is distorting Israel’s priorities and catering to a fringe minority for these settlement unit approvals that will continue to harm future prospects for peace,” it said in a statement.
That perspective was echoed by Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, who said in a statement that the approval of these 5,000 units undermine "the prospect of achieving a viable two-state solution by systematically eroding the possibility of establishing a contiguous and independent Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel."
"I call on the authorities to cease immediately all settlement-related activities," he added.
Ahmad Majdalani, a Palestinian Cabinet minister, said Netanyahu was working “systematically to end the two-state solution through settlement activities." He said he believed the wave of approvals this week was in response to concerns that Trump's challenger, Joe Biden, will likely be less accepting of settlement construction if elected.
Settler leaders applauded the decision. "We are grateful to the prime minister... for not putting the issue aside," said Shlomo Ne'eman, head of the local council of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. "As well as the international field, working in the Land of Israel is also important. Establishing, expanding and strengthening the settlements - these are the real steps towards Israeli and Jewish sovereignty in Judea and Samaria," he added, using the government's name for the West Bank.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.