AUSTIN, Texas — Just months after agreeing to a record-breaking U.S. military aid package, Israel announced a major new expansion of its illegal settlements in the West Bank of Gaza.
In July, the United States agreed to give Israel $38 billion in military aid over the next 10 years, a dramatic increase from current aid levels. On Sept. 28, the Israeli foreign ministry announced plans to create 98 new housing units in the West Bank of Gaza, drawing condemnation from both the United Nations and the U.S. State Department.
“We strongly condemn the Israeli government’s recent decision to advance a plan that would create a significant new settlement deep in the West Bank,” Mark Toner, deputy State Department spokesperson, said in a statement published online on Oct. 5.
Warning that the new settlement could expand to up to 300 units, Toner continued:
“The retroactive authorization of nearby illegal outposts, or redrawing of local settlement boundaries, does not change the fact that this approval contradicts previous public statements by the Government of Israel that it had no intention of creating new settlements. And this settlement’s location deep in the West Bank, far closer to Jordan than Israel, would link a string of outposts that effectively divide the West Bank and make the possibility of a viable Palestinian state more remote.”
Toner warned that efforts to proceed with the settlement would constitute a “step towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation that is fundamentally inconsistent with Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”
The U.N. Security Council agreed to discuss the new settlement on Oct. 14, amid sharp criticism from multiple U.N. officials.
“We are not going to allow the Security Council to run away from its responsibility to act” against illegal settlements, promised Riyad Mansour, the U.N.’s Permanent Observer in Palestine, during an Oct. 3 report to the U.N. Palestinian Rights Committee. “The situation on the ground is moving from bad to worse,” he said.
Speaking to the Security Council in September, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that a two-state solution “was at risk of being replaced by a one-State reality of perpetual violence and occupation,” according to a U.N. press release. Ban continued:
“Settlements are illegal under international law. The occupation, stifling and oppressive, must end.”
Israel’s foreign ministry fired back against the criticism in an Oct. 5 statement by insisting that the plans called for the expansion of an existing settlement, rather than a new one. “This housing will be built on state land in the existing settlement of Shilo and will not change its municipal boundary or geographic footprint,” according to the statement.
In 2013, B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, estimated there were 125 illegal settlements in the West Bank, with the total settler population numbering roughly 547,000 people. However, an Oct. 7 report from the anti-settlement group Peace Now suggests settlement growth quadrupled over the last year.
While the Obama administration has grown increasingly vocal in its opposition to the settlements, there’s little indication that it will back up its words with actions.
On Sept. 16, The Associated Press reported that Israel’s illegal settlement activity has actually ramped up during President Barack Obama’s two terms in office. Citing Israeli government data, Josef Federman reported:
“In his landmark speech to the Arab world seven years ago, President Barack Obama warned that Israeli settlements on occupied territories were undermining hopes for peace. ‘It is time for these settlements to stop,’ he declared.
According to Federman, this represents another broken promise from Obama. “Not only did he fail to stop it, but he watched Israeli construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem thrive — despite repeated White House condemnations,” he wrote.