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US State Department pans Israeli plan for new settlement homes

Spokesman says expected approval of several thousand new housing units ‘will make achieving a two-state solution much more difficult’

New apartments buildings under construction in the Beit El settlement in the West Bank with the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the background, October 13, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
New apartments buildings under construction in the Beit El settlement in the West Bank with the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the background, October 13, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The US State Department on Friday criticized Israel’s plan to green-light thousands of new settlement homes in the West Bank next week, in what would be the first such approval since President Joe Biden took office.

“We believe it is critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and fundamentally undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution,” a State Department spokesman said in a statement to The Times of Israel.

“This certainly includes settlement activity which will make achieving a two-state solution much more difficult. It’s critical to advance steps that will promote calm and reduce tensions.”

The comments came a day after Israeli television reported that the plan to approve some 2,200 new homes was trimmed down by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett from an original 3,200 in a bid to avoid upsetting the US administration.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the planned homes are seen as particularly sensitive as they are the first to be brought for approval under the Biden administration.

The final list was cut down by some 1,000 homes that were okayed by the professional level but did not get approval from Bennett, who is anxious not to anger Washington before his first meeting with Biden even takes place.

The two countries have been discussing a trip by Bennett to Washington, and the Israeli premier is expected to head to the White House in the coming weeks.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 8, 2021. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

The new housing plans are set to be approved next week by the Civil Administration.

At the same time Defense Minister Benny Gantz has also approved the construction of 1,000 Palestinian homes in the Israeli-controlled Area C, mostly in the Jenin and Bethlehem areas, a defense official confirmed to The Times of Israel Wednesday.

Area C makes up some 60 percent of the West Bank and is fully under Israeli security and administrative control. Israel rarely approves Palestinian construction in Area C, with the overwhelming majority of requests being denied. This has resulted in rampant illegal building, which is in turn often demolished by Israel.

Most of the international community considers settlement construction a violation of international law. The Trump administration in 2018 announced that it did not consider this to be the case, backing Israel, which rejects the position that the territories are occupied, saying they were captured from Jordan in a defensive war.

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