Palestinians to boycott economic summit with Israel following settlement move

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Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh said Sunday that the PA will boycott a planned economic meeting with Israel on Monday in protest over the government’s approval of a measure easing West Bank settlement construction.

Al-Sheikh, a top aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, added in a tweet that Palestinian leaders “will study a number of other measures and decisions for implementation related to the relationship with Israel.”

The meeting of the Joint Economic Committee, which hadn’t been previously announced, would have been the first time it had convened since 2009.

The announcement from Al-Sheikh came after the government passed a resolution that gives far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich practically full authority to approve planning in West Bank settlements.

The decision also dramatically expedites and eases the process for expanding existing West Bank settlements and retroactively legalizing some illegal outposts.

Jordan’s foreign ministry also condemned the measure, calling the move a “flagrant violation of international law.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich during the cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 18, 2023. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

A spokesman for the ministry called on the international community to “take immediate action to stop unilateral Israeli measures” seen as impeding a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

The left-wing Peace Now group lamented handing Smotrich expanded powers to “suppress any opposition to construction” in the West Bank. The Yesh Din nonprofit said the move places the ability to “expand and establish settlements into the hands of Smotrich’s people without any oversight.”

Settlement leaders, on the other hand, praised Smotrich and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for advancing and approving the change, and welcomed the simplified approval process that they said would turn planning approval and construction into something “routine” and more similar to that in sovereign Israel.

The move came the same day that the government announced a plan to advance a long-stalled proposal to develop a gas field off the coast of Gaza, seen as a potential boon to the Palestinian economy.

Meanwhile, Barbara Leaf, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, arrived in Israel on Saturday, according to the State Department. She was slated to meet with “senior Israeli political and military leadership” during her time in the country, with discussions including “constraining Iran’s destabilizing behavior.”

Barbara Leaf, US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, speaks to reporters at a media roundtable in Kuwait City on October 19, 2022. (YASSER AL-ZAYYAT / AFP)

Leaf was also scheduled to hold meetings with Palestinian officials in Ramallah before departing for Jordan on Saturday.

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