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Foreign Secretary condemns settlement expansion

The UK Foreign Secretary said yesterday that the construction of new settlement units “promotes the effective annexation of the West Bank.”

The statement by Dominic Raab marks a shift in tone from the British Government and could be interpreted as a warning to the Israeli government not to pursue plans announced by Prime Minister Netanyahu to apply Israeli sovereignty to Israeli settlements. The Foreign Secretary said: “We urge Israel to halt its settlement expansion, which is contrary to international law and promotes the effective annexation of the West Bank.”

Earlier this week, the Israeli Higher Planning Committee of the Civil Administration approved the building of 2,304 new housing units in the West Bank. It came after the Security Cabinet had approved construction permits for 715 Palestinian units in the West Bank’s Area C, but the Foreign Secretary said “much more needs to be done to fulfil the needs of the estimated 300,000 Palestinians” in Area C, which is under full Israeli security and civil control.

The Foreign Secretary said: “The UK continues to urge the Government of Israel to develop improved mechanisms that allow Palestinians to build within Area C,” adding that the UK: “Remains seriously concerned by the continued demolition of Palestinian property by Israeli authorities, including in Wadi al Hummus on 22 July.”

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, said: “The expansion of settlements has no legal effect and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law. By advancing the effective annexation of the West Bank, it undermines the chances for establishing a Palestinian state based on relevant UN resolutions, as part of a negotiated two-state solution.”

UK Ambassador to Israel Neil Wigan formally presented his credentials to Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin yesterday. Ambassador Wigan said: “We see Israel as a friend and even when there are disagreements, that friendship is very important to us.”

The President responded: “Our relations are strong and strategic, including in the field of counter-terrorism, and that is how they will remain. We see you as very good friends and let me assure you there will be no ‘Israexit’ from our bilateral relations.”