Middle East

Israel sparks international condemnation over plans to legalize five West Bank settlements

By Alex Stambaugh, Eugenia Yosef and Abeer Salman, CNN

CNN  — 

Israel has sparked condemnation after the finance minister announced plans to legally recognize five unauthorized Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

As CNN has reported, the Israeli government has been looking to “strengthen” Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank after several countries unilaterally recognized a Palestinian state.

The spokesperson for Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, told CNN that the Israeli government had agreed in a late-night cabinet to recognize five Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that were built illegally and that Smotrich will release tax funds to the Palestinian Authority that Israel collects on its behalf.

In a statement to CNN on Sunday, Smotrich’s office said the decision to release funds to the Palestinian Authority was “immediate” and would cover the past three months. Funds have been frozen following the October 7 attacks.

CNN reached out to the Prime Minister’s office, which has not yet publicly commented on the reports. Once authorized, settlements become more like parts of Israel, with access to water, electricity and medical care.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers some areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, told CNN on Sunday that it has not yet received the funds from Israel.

“So far, no money or official messages from the Israeli side have been received,” an official source in the Palestinian Authority said.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, pictured last year.

Smotrich is a leading far-right member of the Israeli cabinet and opposes the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

He has long advocated for the building of settlements, pointing to them as a means of preventing the West Bank becoming part of such an independent state.  “The goal is to change the DNA of the system for many, many years,” he said, according to leaked audio from a speech he made earlier this month.

The European Union as well as several Middle Eastern countries have denounced the plans. In a statement posted on X on Saturday, EU spokesperson Peter Stano said the organization “condemns in the strongest terms” the announcement by Smotrich.

“This is another deliberate attempt at undermining peace efforts,” he added.

Qatar called the decision “a new chapter in the ongoing violations of international legitimacy resolutions,” according to Qatar’s official news agency.

In separate statements, Egypt and Saudi Arabia also called it a violation of international law and Security Council resolutions.

“Egypt strongly denounced Israel’s exploitation of the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip to push more illegal settlement expansion and attempts to change the legal situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem,” the Egyptian government said.

Saudi Arabia said the moves “undermine the chances for peace, fuel conflicts, and impair regional and international security and stability,” according to a foreign ministry statement.

Israel has expanded settlements in the occupied West Bank over decades despite signing a series of peace agreements with the Palestinians in the 1990s, called the Oslo Accords, that envisaged the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as part of a negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Such settlements are considered illegal under international law and by much of the international community.

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