US ‘disappointed’ by ‘unhelpful’ settlement tenders

US ‘disappointed’ by ‘unhelpful’ settlement tenders

State Department says move to build 1,500 apartments is 'counterproductive to a two state solution'

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Construction in the settlement of Ariel in January 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
Construction in the settlement of Ariel in January 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

WASHINGTON — The United States is “deeply disappointed” by Israel’s plan to issue new building tenders in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, a State Department spokeswoman said Thursday, but will not call on Israel to reverse its decision, as the European Union did earlier in the day.

Marie Harf said that Israel’s decision to issue 1,500 building tenders — an apparent retaliation for the establishment of a Fatah-Hamas unity government by the Palestinian Authority — was “unhelpful and counterproductive to a two state solution.”

The Housing and Construction Ministry had announced Thursday morning its decision to publish tenders for the 1,500 units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in what Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel called an “appropriate Zionist response to the Palestinian terror government.” Later, an official said Israel would be moving forward with an additional 1,800 homes.

Harf said that the move “undercut the efforts” to achieve a two-state solution and added that “is very difficult to understand how these settlements contribute to peace.”

Harf’s tone, though critical, was less strident than the European Union’s earlier response to Israel’s announcement. The EU did not merely criticize the move, but called on Israel to reverse its decision and alluded to the possibility of sanctions.

Palestinian Authority official Hanan Ashwari, meanwhile, said that the PA’s executive committee “will counter [the decision] by addressing both the United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly as the proper way of curbing this grave violation and ensuring accountability.”

Harf, on the other hand, said that the US did not think that additional enforcement or punitive steps were necessary. She said that US officials held frequent conversations with Israeli officials, and that Washington used such communication channels to discuss difficult issues such as construction beyond the 1967 lines.

“Broadly speaking, we know we have a lot more work to do,” she said. “This is part of a larger conversation on how we move the peace process forward, if it’s possible now.”

Earlier Thursday, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told Army Radio that the US opposes “settlement construction in the West Bank as well as announcements regarding such construction.”

Shapiro said that despite Israel’s explanation that the move came in response to the formation of a Palestinian unity government supported by Hamas, the US would oppose the move “with or without this disputed case of a new Palestinian transitional government.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Israel to freeze settlement activity and abide by international law, noting that he was “deeply concerned” by reports that Israel had issued the tenders for construction, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“As the United Nations has reiterated on many occasions, the building of settlements on occupied territory is illegal under international law,” he said in a statement.

He reiterated a call from Ban on both parties “to avoid taking unilateral actions on the ground that would further diminish the chances of reaching a negotiated final peace agreement.”

“The secretary general calls on Israel to heed the calls of the international community to freeze settlement activity and abide by its commitments under international law and the roadmap,” he said.

AFP contributed to this report.

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