JERUSALEM, Israel – The United States has issued its toughest rebuke to date against Israel’s expansion of settlement communities in the disputed West Bank – biblical Judea and Samaria.
Israel plans to advance construction of 2,862 new Jewish homes in the West Bank on Wednesday and recently issued tenders for 1,355 more units to be built in seven different communities.
“We strongly oppose the expansion of the settlements, which is completely incompatible with efforts to reduce tensions and ensure calm, and this undermines the prospects for a two-state solution,” the presses State Department spokesman Ned Price.
“We also view plans to retroactively legalize illegal outposts as unacceptable. We continue to express our views on this issue directly with senior Israeli officials in our private discussions, ”he added.
When the issue was raised with Price last week, he issued a general statement urging Israel and the Palestinians to “refrain from unilateral measures that exacerbate tensions and undermine efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution” in conflict.
Tuesday’s comments are Washington’s harshest criticism of Israeli settlement communities since President Joe Biden took office in January. The UN, EU, Palestinians and members of the Israeli government have also condemned the construction.
The settlements are located on land contested by the Palestinians and Israel. Leaders on both sides have said the permanent status of the territory must be resolved through peace negotiations, but direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been suspended for years.
The Palestinians want the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem – territories captured by Israel in the Six Day War in 1967 – to be part of a future state. Palestinians see settlements as a major obstacle to peace and most of the international community considers them illegal under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Israel cites the San Remo resolution signed in 1920 after World War I as its right under international law to colonize land. Israel also regards the disputed territory on which the settler communities are built as the biblical and historical heart of the Jewish people.
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Israeli Construction and Housing Minister Zeev Elkin praised the construction plans “after a long period of construction stagnation in Judea and Samaria.”
“The strengthening and expansion of settlements in Judea and Samaria is a necessary and very important part of the Zionist enterprise,” he added.
A leader of the Beit El settlement community, where some of the houses will be built, applauded the decision.
“With the vast shopping areas that will be built, we will soon be able to see in Beit El images that we have never seen before on our way to make it a city and the capital of the [Binyamin region]Said Shai Alon, head of the Beit El Regional Council.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayye condemned the decision and called on the world, especially the United States, to “confront” Israel about it.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the right-wing Yamina Party, is a strong supporter of Israeli settlement communities and opposes the creation of an independent Palestinian state. But left-wing members of Bennett’s governing coalition condemned the advance of new settlements.
“The Yamina government is ignoring Meretz,” tweeted Mossi Raz, leader of Israel’s Meretz party. “It is heading 10 degrees more to the right than the last government. Building in settlements outside of Israel harms Israel.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist, indirectly criticized Bennett for expanding the settlement community.
“Next time I will be in the room when deciding on such matters,” he said at the start of a meeting for his Yesh Atid Party. “This is not a government that is ten degrees to the right or to the left, it is a government that is 100 percent for Israeli citizens.”
The move comes weeks before Bennett’s governing coalition, which includes an Arab party and left, right and center parties, is due to pass a 2021 budget before the November 14 deadline. Bennett and other ministers have warned of escalating tensions within the coalition because if they fail to pass a budget, the government automatically dissolves and a new election is called.
Lapid played down fears that the coalition’s infighting over the settlements could derail the Israeli government.
“I want to erase all [background] noise and focus on what’s important: the budget will pass. The coalition is working, ”he said.
“When you take care of things, there will be disagreements and conflicting interests. The action has a cost, but we are prepared to pay it, ”Lapid said. “Israel is making progress.