The US, UK and Europe have condemned Israel’s decision to build more than 5,000 new settler homes in occupied territory, a project that will greatly increase the gap between Israel and the rest of the world.
It is likely to make it even harder for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to retain support in his ruling coalition after a bruising internal fight over the expansion over the weekend.
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In a statement on Tuesday, the State Department described the decision as “destructive of the fabric of a two-state solution”.
“United States remains deeply committed to a two-state solution. We call on Israeli leaders to live up to their obligations to return to direct negotiations with the Palestinians,” it said.
Britain said it was appalled by the plan and would act to “affirm international law and the international community’s opposition to settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory”.
“We also condemn the ever increasing level of settlement activity,” a spokeswoman said.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, condemned the plans in a statement, saying: “The EU will continue to act in accordance with EU law on settlement issues and to reiterate that these arrangements would block progress towards a two-state solution and cause grave and irreversible damage to Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.”
The Associated Press reported that Netanyahu asked Trump administration officials for US help to convince settlers and foreign donors to back off from their boycott plans after the government announced it was planning the settlement building – which had triggered a political uproar.
The British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: “No country should consider their money being used to build more settlements.”
Israeli settlers were said to be leading the campaign to prevent foreign funds from being used to build new homes in settlement blocs, before having their efforts ultimately ignored.
Last week, a coalition of liberal international Jewish bodies that include human rights organisations demanded a halt to settlement building, saying it was “detrimental to prospects for a two-state solution”.
They demanded that Israel freeze all settlement activity.
“We’re open to a two-state solution if there’s no other way of reaching peace … It’s better than a two-state solution without a solution,” Natan Sachs, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said.
The latest announcement – which had drawn condemnation from international leaders and support from hardline Jewish right-wing parties – “makes it that much harder to make progress” toward a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Sachs said.
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Former Israeli diplomat and author Gideon Levy said it was a political decision to strengthen Netanyahu. “It is a lost year in Israel. No peace is likely, especially in the future,” he said on his Facebook page.
Ehud Barak, a former defence minister, said the decision will have “serious security implications” and may lead to violence.
“Right now, we have a serious crisis of confidence, not only among Arabs but among [our] own people. This will bring [violence] back to Israel,” he told the Maariv newspaper.
Rabbi Shlomo Goren, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, told Israel’s Channel 2 television he also did not approve of the move, saying: “There is no need for it.”
At the same time, many Israelis were sceptical that it would matter much, and Netanyahu is still likely to have strong support from his Likud party.
However, political leaders are still working hard to avoid splitting the coalition, and promised to block further pro-settler announcements.
A spokesman for the hardline settler group Ateret Cohanim said they had not yet decided whether to appeal against Tuesday’s decision.
On Tuesday night, Israel’s supreme court rejected a case against government funding for a building development of the West Bank settlement of Eli.