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European countries 'deeply concerned' over Israeli settlement construction

Israel approved the construction of more than 2,000 new illegal West Bank settlement homes on Wednesday
A Palestinian man confronts a member of the Israeli security forces
A Palestinian man confronts a member of the Israeli security forces as Palestinian farmers trying to access their lands to harvest olives in the West Bank village of Burqah were prevented by Israeli settlers on 16 October, 2020 (AFP)

Several European countries have condemned Israel's move to build more than 2,000 new homes in the occupied West Bank, saying they were "deeply concerned" by the development.

"We are deeply concerned by the decision taken by the Israeli authorities to advance more than 4,900 settlement building units in the occupied West Bank," read the joint statement signed by France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain.

"The expansion of settlements 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."

Israel's approval of the construction on Wednesday came just weeks after the country signed controversial normalisation agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

According to official figures sent to AFP, 2,166 new homes in settlements will be built, ending an eight-month lull in settlement expansion.

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This comes despite pledges in last month's normalisation deals that Israel would halt the expansion of settlements in occupied territories, which the International Court of Justice said stood contrary to international law.

'De facto annexation'

US President Donald Trump has portrayed the joint Israeli, Emirati and Bahraini deal - also known as the Abraham Accords - as part of his broader initiative for Middle East peace.

But a controversial plan unveiled by Washington in January gave US blessing to the Israeli annexation of vast swathes of the West Bank, including settlements - offering only fragmented territory for the creation of a Palestinian state with no sovereignty over borders or airspace. 

Israel reportedly agreed to delay those plans under its normalisation deal with the UAE, something Emirati officials have cited in response to Arab and Muslim criticism.

But shortly after the deal between Israel and the UAE was announced, Netanyahu said the agreement did not nullify the provisions of Trump’s contested "deal of the century" plan.

Israeli NGO Peace Now called the uptick in settlement construction a signal of Israel's rejection of Palestinian statehood, dealing a blow to hopes of a wider regional peace.

"[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is moving ahead at full steam toward solidifying the de facto annexation of the West Bank," the organisation said in a statement ahead of Wednesday's announcement.

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