Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Israel’s Ben-Gvir says wants more settlements after U.S. and European concern

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Israel's Ben-Gvir says wants more settlements after U.S. and European concern © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s far-right new minister of national security in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, 3 January 2023. Atef Safadi/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel’s hardline Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said on Tuesday he wanted to see more Jewish settlements after European and U.S. foreign ministers said they were troubled by a recent decision by Israel to authorise settler outposts.

The comments, in a video message, fly in the face of international calls for a de-escalation of tension between Israel and the Palestinians after months of violence in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

“The land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel,” he said in a video message that followed a statement of concern from Washington and its European allies, France, Germany, Italy and Britain over the decision on legalizing outposts.

On Sunday, Israel granted retroactive authorisation to nine Jewish settler outposts in the occupied West Bank and announced mass-construction of new homes in established settlements, prompting U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to say he was “deeply troubled” by the move.

No comment was immediately available from Israel’s foreign ministry but Ben-Gvir, from the hardline religious nationalist bloc in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, said he wanted to go even further than the decision announced on Sunday.

“This is our mission. This our doctrine,” Ben-Gvir said. “Nine settlements is nice but it’s still not enough. We want much more,” he said.

Most world powers consider settlements on land captured in a 1967 war between Israel and Arab powers to be illegal, although Israel disputes this and since the war it has established 132 settlements, according to the Peace Now watchdog group.

As well as the authorized settlements, groups of settlers have built scores of outposts without government permission. Some have been razed by police, others authorised retroactively. The nine granted approval on Sunday are the first for this Netanyahu government.

Earlier the foreign ministries of France, Germany, Britain and Italy joined the United States in warning against settlement expansion on land the Palestinians see as the core of a future Palestinian state.

“We strongly oppose unilateral actions which will only serve to exacerbate tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and undermine efforts to achieve a negotiated two-state solution,” they said in a statement.

Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official, welcomed the joint statement but said action needed to be taken.

“We demand that words be turned to deeds,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

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