Date: May 16 2012
ISRAEL'S accelerated program of settlement construction - considered illegal under international law - was threatening to ''make a two-state solution impossible'', the European Union Foreign Affairs Council has warned.
The council also criticised Israel's practice of evicting Palestinians and demolishing their houses in East Jerusalem, the changes to the residency status of Palestinians and the prevention of peaceful Palestinian cultural, economic, social and political activities.
Just last month, two Palestinian families were evicted by Israeli authorities from their houses in Beit Hanina, after a court case brought by an Israeli citizen and supported by a settler association. The houses were handed over to settlers, the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs Occupied Palestinian Territory reported.
Israel was quick to reject the EU statement, saying it was based on ''a partial, biased and one-sided depiction of realities on the ground''.
The EU document singled out the planned expansion of Givat Hamatos as of particular concern. It is a new neighbourhood that the settlement watch group Peace Now warned would ''complete the isolation between Bethlehem and East Jerusalem, and will destroy any possibility of a territorial solution in Beit Safafa and Shurafat''.
''Settlements remain illegal under international law, irrespective of recent decisions by the government of Israel,'' the council said. Noting the ''worsening living conditions of the Palestinian population'', the EU document also condemned Israel's plans for the forced transfer of Bedouin communities on the West Bank.
And it expressed ''deep concern regarding settler extremism and incitement by settlers in the West Bank'', condemning the continuous settler violence and deliberate provocations against Palestinian civilians and calling on Israel to bring the perpetrators to justice and to comply with its obligations under international law.
In a statement from Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a spokesman said Israel was ''committed to the wellbeing of the Palestinian population and acts according to all relevant international conventions''.
Israel should facilitate accelerated approval of Palestinian master plans, halt the forced transfer of populations and demolition of Palestinian housing and infrastructure, the council urged, as well as ensure access to water and other humanitarian needs were met.
The EU's criticisms come as thousands of Palestinian prisoners ended a weeks-long hunger strike after Israel agreed to ease restrictions inside its jails for some inmates. Under the deal, Israel will remove prisoners from solitary confinement and allow family visits for prisoners from Gaza, which have been suspended since 2007 in retaliation for the seizure of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The two longest-running hunger strikers - Tha'er Halahleh and Bilal Diab - refused food for 77 days to protest against the conditions of their imprisonment. They have so far been jailed for 23 months and nine months respectively on administrative detention orders - that is held indefinitely without charge. Both are members of Islamic Jihad.
United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon says Israel should either put administrative detainees on trial or release them.
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