The Biden administration on Friday blasted Israeli plans to advance nearly 4,000 settlement homes in the West Bank, saying the measure “deeply damages the prospects for a two-state solution.”
“The Biden Administration has been clear on this from the outset. We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements which exacerbates tensions and undermines trust between the parties,” said State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter during a phone briefing with reporters. “Israel’s program of expanding settlements deeply damages the prospects for a two-state solution.”
Pressed whether there would be repercussions for Jerusalem if it moves forward with the expansion beyond the Green Line, Porter declined to offer any, instead referring to a long-used US talking point calling on the sides “to avoid unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions.”
She began the call by condemning the Thursday terror attack in Elad in which three Israelis were killed and four were injured.
Jordan’s Foreign Ministry also condemned the slated settlement approvals calling them a “flagrant and grave breach of international law.”
It also lambasted a Wednesday decision by Israel’s High Court of Justice allowing Israeli authorities to evict some 1,300 Palestinians living in an area the IDF seeks to use as a training zone.
Like the US, Amman said the Israeli actions in the West Bank undermine efforts to reach a two-state solution. While some previous Israeli governments backed the framework for peace with the Palestinians, and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu principally endorsed the vision in a 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University, he gradually moved Jerusalem away from the concept in the years that followed. His successor Naftali Bennett has long opposed a two-state solution and refuses to even hold negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Earlier Friday, the Defense Ministry body that authorizes settlement construction released the agenda for its next meeting on Thursday, revealing that it is slated to green-light 2,536 homes through the final planning stage, while advancing another 1,452 homes through an earlier stage in the permitting process known as deposit.
The expected approvals will come just over a month before a planned visit to Israel by US President Joe Biden.
Washington has repeatedly said Israeli settlements threaten a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When Israel advanced some 3,000 settlement homes last October, the State Department called it “completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and restore calm.” Several weeks later, Israel retreated from plans for a massive construction project near Atarot in East Jerusalem following US pressure.
The premier’s office notified the Biden administration ahead of time of its plans to reconvene the Defense Ministry body that authorizes settlement construction, an Israeli official said. The official noted that the Americans reiterated their opposition to such moves, but denied a report of an ultimatum from Washington.
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides told Axios that he and other Biden officials implored Israel not to move forward with the plans.
While they did not succeed in convincing Israel to hold off entirely, Jerusalem did agree to slim down the Civil Administration High Planning Subcommittee agenda for next Thursday’s meeting from 5,800 to 4,000 homes, Axios reported.
As it did with the last batch of green-lit settlement plans, the Defense Ministry will also advance building projects for Palestinians in areas of the West Bank under its civilian control, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel.
Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 during the Six-Day War. Palestinians hope to establish an independent state on the territories.
While most of the 25 projects slated to be advanced next week are for settlements located closer to the Green Line, other plans slated to be green-lit are for settlements located deep in the West Bank, east of the security barrier. This includes a project for 56 homes in Negohot, which will be advanced through the deposit stage, and a plan for 534 homes in Shevut Rachel and 114 homes in Ma’aleh Michmash that are expected to be advanced through the final planning stage.
In addition to adding thousands of new homes, the plans will retroactively legalize the Mitzpeh Dani and Oz V’gaon outposts. The former is a wildcat neighborhood of the Ma’aleh Michmash settlement in the heart of the West Bank and the latter is a nature reserve and education center that was built following the kidnap and murder of Israeli teens Gil-ad Shaer, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Fraenkel in the summer of 2014.