Though so-called "peace talks" are scheduled to resume on Wednesday between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Jerusalem, an announcement by the Israeli government on Sunday permitting construction of 1,200 new homes in the occupied West Bank was seen as confirmation that the talks are nothing more than window dressing for what critics see as the ongoing colonization and annexation of Palestinian land.
The international community was quick to condemn the announcement.
"Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law and threaten to make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible," said Michael Mann, chief spokesperson for the European Union.
As the Guardian reports, Palestinian leaders warned that continued settlement expansion could "scupper" the talks:
Negotiator Mohammad Shtayyeh said it was "clear that the Israeli government is deliberately attempting to sabotage US and international efforts to resume negotiations by approving more settlement units three days before the first Palestinian-Israeli meeting". He added: "Israel continues to use peace negotiations as a smokescreen for more settlement construction."
"Negotiating with the Israelis over land they are actively stealing is like negotiating with with a glutton over a cake while he is eating it in another room. You might get some crumbs." –Juan Cole, Middle East scholar
The settlement announcement came hours before a special ministerial committee convened to approve the names of the first 26 prisoners to be released, from a list submitted by the security agency Shin Bet. The committee was due to be chaired by Netanyahu, who was instead recovering from overnight emergency surgery to repair a hernia. He left hospital early on Sunday evening.
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Middle East scholar Juan Cole went further in his response to Israel's announcement for new settlements just three days before talks were to resume, saying the familiar ploy by the Israelis shows how clearly the so-called "peace process" has been an ongoing "charade" that has allowed for continuous expansion of illegal settlement activity:
The “peace talks” are supposed to lead to a Palestinian state with sovereignty over Palestinian territory, which is impossible as long as the Israeli squatters chomp away at the very land on which a state would be erected. Netanyahu’s spokesman said that the new building is only in parts of Palestinian territory that are not envisaged to return to the Palestinians from Israeli control in any negotiations. But the new building includes venues like East Jerusalem or the West Bank that Palestinians do in fact envisage recovering in any successful peace talks. Netanyahu is simply dictating beforehand what the Palestinians can have [...]
Negotiating with the Israelis over land they are actively stealing is like negotiating with with a glutton over a cake while he is eating it in another room. You might get some crumbs.
And putting the announcement in historical context, Cole takes the moment to once again explain to readers why the international community, though not the US, rightly considers the settlement activity illegal under international law:
Israel militarily occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1967. The United Nations charter, to which it is signatory, forbids the acquisition of territory by military conquest. The Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of militarily occupied peoples forbids the transfer of populations from the Occupying Power into the occupied territory and forbids the Occupier from altering the lifeways of the occupied population. Israel’s occupation practices diverge so profoundly from international law that the Occupation itself is now obviously illegal. The European Union, for this reason, is now applying economic sanctions to Israeli-made goods deriving from squatter settlements on the Palestinian West Bank.
As Al-Jazeera reports, for those who did put legitimate and renewed hope into the latest round of talks, Israel's announcement for new settlement expansion could "not have come at a worse time":