US & UN criticize Israeli settlement bill viewed as step towards West Bank annexation

US & UN criticize Israeli settlement bill viewed as step towards West Bank annexation
The UN has voiced strong concerns after Israeli lawmakers gave the green light to a bill which would legalize West Bank settlements. While Washington voiced “deep concern” over the move, Palestinians called on the US to recognize the state of Palestine.

On Monday in a preliminary reading, the Israeli parliament (Knesset) voted 60-49, to pass a revised version of the Regulation Bill. The bill aims to legalize 55 settlements situated on privately-owned Palestinian land, according to Peace Now.

While the draft specifies that landowners are to be offered compensation, the passage of the bill was condemned at home and abroad.

The bill still needs to pass another three times in the Knesset and get the green light from the Supreme Court to retroactively legalize 4,000 settler homes in Area C of the West Bank, which has been under Israeli military rule since 1967.

The UN warned of “legal consequences” if the draft legislation becomes law.

“The so-called ‘legalization bill’ has the objective of protecting illegal settlements and outposts built on private Palestinian property in the West Bank. Some have pronounced it to be a step towards the annexation of the West Bank,” Bulgarian politician and United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nikolay Mladenov, said in a statement.

The coordinator urged Israeli legislators to reconsider adopting the bill, reminding that all settlement activities are illegal under international law. Mladenov also warned that the bill's passage could diminish the chances of reaching a two-state peace solution.

“If adopted, it will have far-reaching legal consequences for Israel, across the occupied West Bank and will greatly diminish the prospect of Arab-Israeli peace,” he said.

The US State Department has also voiced “deep concern” over the move to legalize Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“Enacting this law would be profoundly damaging to the prospects for a two-state solution,” State Department spokesman, Mark Toner said Tuesday.

“We’ve also been troubled by comments that we’ve heard by some political figures in Israel that this would be the first step in annexing parts of the West Bank,” he said.

Earlier, Israel's Education minister Naftali Bennett, from the Jewish Home party said that the passage of the bill at the preliminary reading on Monday marked the beginning of Israel’s de facto annexation of the West Bank.

“This is a historic day: today, Israel’s Knesset shifted from the course of establishing the Palestinian state to a course of sovereignty over Judea and Samaria. The regulation Bill is the spearhead in applying sovereignty,” Bennett said.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry called on the US to recognize the state of Palestine, after Washington’s criticism of Israel over the weekend.

On Sunday US Secretary of State John Kerry accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of not working towards negotiating a two-state solution, stressing that the settlements remain “an obstacle to peace.”

With Kerry’s statements in mind, on Tuesday Palestinian Foreign Ministry called on the US to“translate its positions into practical steps that will save the two-state solution of peace and opportunity.”

“This would include the immediate cessation of settlement building through the US recognizing the State of Palestine and supporting the draft resolution against settlements in the UN Security Council,” the Palestinian statement reads.