WASHINGTON, United States — The United States rebuked Israel on Wednesday over what it said was its accelerated building of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank in the face of mounting international concern.
“This significant expansion of the settlement activity poses a serious and growing threat to the viability of a two state solution,” President Barack Obama’s spokesman Josh Earnest said.
“We are particularly troubled by the policy of retroactively approving illegal outposts and unauthorized settlements,” he added, briefing reporters aboard Air Force One en route for China.
The US response came after earlier in the day Israel’s governing body in the West Bank approved the construction of 466 new housing units in a slew of settlements.
Washington has long been concerned that Israel’s building on occupied Palestinian land is undermining hopes for a Middle East peace deal, but Wednesday’s warning was unusually strongly worded.
An official said Israel’s actions ran counter to the advice laid out by the Middle East Quartet, a contact group comprising the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States.
“We are deeply concerned by the government of Israel’s announcement today to advance plans for over 500 new settlement units in the West Bank,” a senior official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The United States has urged Israel and the Palestinians to “take meaningful steps” to build trust, but Israel has instead promoted the building of thousands of new settlement homes.
“These policies have effectively given the government’s green light for the pervasive advancement of settlement activity in a new and potentially unlimited way,” the senior official added, warning Israel could torpedo peace hopes.
“As the Quartet report highlights, we are concerned about a systematic process of land seizures, settlement expansions and legalizations,” he said.
This, the official warned, “fundamentally undermines the prospects for a two-state solution and risks entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict.”
Israel has defended its settlement building, arguing that Jews have lived in the West Bank and Jerusalem — the city claimed by both Israel and Palestinians as a capital — for thousands of years.
But the US official warned the Israeli government risks undermining its own case with its aggressive settlement program and a “dramatic acceleration” in the demolition of Palestinian buildings.
Construction in the settlements of Elkana, Ofarim, Beit Aryeh, Givat Ze’ev and Har Gilo was approved by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee, which had been convened at the insistence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Army Radio reported.
The largest single bloc, in the settlement of Elkana, east of Tel Aviv, entails the construction of 234 housing units.
The move by the Civil Administration helped the housing units pass an intermediary hurdle on the way to breaking ground.
And 179 units already constructed in the West Bank settlement of Ofarim, north of Ramallah, were retroactively approved.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.