As Israeli and Palestinian leadership resume direct bilateral negotiations after a three year absence, the Israeli government has announced plans to subsidize several Jewish settlements on the West Bank, a move that Palestinian leadership believes will undermine the latest round of talks and the prospects of an agreement that will end the longstanding conflict.
Although all West Bank settlements are considered illegal under international law, the Israeli government has recognized and provided funding for many communities on land that Palestinians hope will one day form the backbone of their future state. Peace Now reports that three out of 91 settlements designated as priority areas for development were legalized within the past year and given government subsidies.
Palestinian leaders have long decried the expansion of settlements as an illegal expropriation that undermines the possibility of a two-state solution in accordance with pre-June 1967 borders. These borders form the internationally recognized “Green Line” separating Israel from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
The BBC reports that Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi responded immediately to the announcement, saying the move would have a “destructive impact” on the resumption of peace talks.
“This is exactly what Israel wants, have a process for its own sake, and at the same time have a free hand to destroy the objective of the process,” she said in quotes carried by The Associated Press.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who is brokering peace talks, did not respond to this latest announcement, but Ynet news reports that Kerry told a group of Congressmen that he believes Israel will be able to retain 85 percent of its current settlement blocs under a future peace deal.
Settlement construction on the West Bank has increased at a record pace during the time of Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration. According to a report released in January by Peace Now, settlement growth has increased 300 percent over the past three years.
Using data from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, reports that there are now roughly 515,000 Jewish residents living in 121 settlement communities and 100 outposts throughout the West Bank.
There is also a bifurcated set of laws governing Jewish and Palestinian communities, the later restricted by a network of checkpoints and barriers.
Ynet news reports that the settlement funding has also become a divisive issue within the ranks of Israeli political leadership.
Some assert that there are underserved communities within the legally recognized state of Israel that are in need of the funding. “This is political, not national priority, which goes against efforts to promote peace,” said Amir Peretz Minister of Environmental Protection.
“It’s unacceptable that struggling cities like Kiryat Gat and Kiryat Malachi are out of the list because they’re close to the center while settlements that were illegal not so long ago are added under the security threat clause.”