The United States has rebuked Israel over an order allowing Jewish settlers to establish a permanent presence in an outpost north of the occupied West Bank that Washington warned the Israeli government it should avoid legitimising.
The chief of the Israeli military’s Central Command signed an order on Thursday that allows Israelis to enter the Homesh area near Nablus, paving the way for a formal settlement to be built there, according to a report in the Times of Israel.
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In March, the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, approved an amendment allowing Israelis to resettle four illegal settlements in the northern occupied West Bank, including Homesh, as the far-right government that took office last year moves ahead with legislation to legalise nine outposts and expand existing settlements.
The US State Department has repeatedly called on Israel to refrain from any moves that escalate tensions with Palestinians, such as formalising settler outposts.
It has specifically warned it over Homesh, which was evacuated in 2005 but has become a flashpoint between Palestinians and Israeli settlers, who have consistently attempted to re-establish the site permanently.
“We are deeply troubled by the Israeli government’s order that allows its citizens to establish a permanent presence in the Homesh outpost in the northern West Bank, which according to Israeli law was illegally built on private Palestinian land,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement on Sunday.
The order is inconsistent with Israeli government commitments made in 2004 and more recently to Biden administration officials, Miller said.
The reproach comes after months of escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians that has tested ties between Washington and its main ally in the Middle East.
Homesh was originally built in 1978 as an Israeli military base on private Palestinian land and handed over to settlers in 1980. It was then evacuated in 2005 as part of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s “disengagement plan”.
While all Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law, the settlement of Homesh is also considered illegal under Israeli law because the Supreme Court ruled that the land belonged to private owners from Burqa.
Despite the evacuation of the outpost, the Israeli army maintains a military base in the location, and settlers are allowed to access it, while Palestinian landowners are forbidden from doing so.
In 2007, settlers established a religious school, or yeshiva, at the outpost. The school continues to operate, and settlers are allowed to camp at the outpost but not have permanent homes.
Israeli settlements are fortified Jewish-only housing complexes built on Palestinian land in violation of international law. As many as 750,000 Israeli settlers live in at least 250 illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.