The Israeli government on Friday fired back at the US State Department over its criticism a day earlier that Israeli construction over the Green Line is “provocative and counterproductive.”
In a statement, the Israeli Foreign Ministry rejected the US argument that recently announced plans to build in East Jerusalem were undermining the prospects for a two-state solution, calling that argument “factually baseless.”
On Wednesday, Israel announced the approval of 323 tenders for housing units in East Jerusalem, and plans to build 770 units in Gilo. While much of the international community considers Gilo a settlement, Israel considers it a neighborhood of annexed East Jerusalem and argues that it will be part of Israel in any negotiated peace agreement.
The international outcry, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Emanuel Nachshon on Friday according to Haaretz, “was done with the full knowledge that the neighborhood of Gilo in Jerusalem will be part of Israel in any conceivable agreement reached through negotiations. The argument that building in Gilo undermines the two-state solution is factually baseless and distracts from the real obstacle to peace — the persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, under any borders.”
On Thursday, the State Department said it was “deeply concerned” about new reports of construction approvals and said building in such sensitive areas runs counter to Israel’s stated goal of achieving a two-state solution.
The State Department’s communications director John Kirby released a statement calling into question Israel’s commitment to a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
“We strongly oppose settlement activity, which is corrosive to the cause of peace,” it said. “These steps by Israeli authorities are the latest examples of what appears to be a steady acceleration of settlement activity that is systematically undermining the prospects for a two-state solution.”
Kirby also expressed concern over what he called Israel’s ongoing practice of demolishing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The statement noted that the demolitions “reportedly have left dozens of Palestinians homeless, including children.”
“More than 650 Palestinian structures have been demolished this year, with more Palestinian structures demolished in the West Bank and East Jerusalem thus far than in all of 2015,” it said.
The statement ended by quoting the recent Middle East Quartet report, which cited settlement expansion as an obstacle to achieving a comprehensive accommodation between Israelis and Palestinians, while also blaming Palestinian incitement.
“As the recent Quartet Report highlighted, this is part of an ongoing process of land seizures, settlement expansion, legalizations of outposts, and denial of Palestinian development that risk entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict,” the statement said.
“We remain troubled that Israel continues this pattern of provocative and counterproductive action, which raises serious questions about Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”