Israel on Wednesday rejected harsh criticism from the United States over West Bank building, saying that the controversial construction newly authorized is not a new settlement.

“The 98 housing units approved in Shiloh do not constitute a ‘new settlement’,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “This housing will be built on state land in the existing settlement of Shiloh and will not change its municipal boundary or geographic footprint.”

The US State Department earlier issued a biting condemnation of Israeli plans to expand the northern West Bank settlement. The new construction will house the residents of Amona, an illegal outpost scheduled for demolition on the orders of the Supreme Court.

Israel approved the construction of the new housing units to compensate homeowners of Amona ahead of its court-ordered evacuation. The plan calls for two phases of construction, with a further 200 units to be approved after the first round of 98 homes is completed.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner briefs the press on Thursday, June 9, 2015 (Youtube screenshot)

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner briefs the press on Thursday, June 9, 2015 (Youtube screenshot)

The Foreign Ministry also reiterated Israel’s stance that the settlements are not the main cause of the stalled peace process with the Palestinians.

“The real obstacle to peace is not the settlements – a final status issue that can and must be resolved in negotiations between the parties — but the persistent Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state in any boundaries,” the statement said.

In an uncharacteristically fierce rebuke earlier Wednesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the US strongly condemns Israel’s “recent decision to advance a plan that would create a significant new settlement deep in the West Bank.”

Invoking the name of Israel’s former president who died last week, Toner added: “[I]t is disheartening that while Israel and the world mourned the passing of President Shimon Peres, and leaders from the US and other nations prepared to honor one of the great champions of peace, plans were advanced that would seriously undermine the prospects for the two state solution that he so passionately supported.”