The U.S. government has sharply criticized Israel’s decision to approve the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Speaking at a press briefing Tuesday, State department spokesman John Kirby said the plans were “the latest step in what seems to be a systematic process of land seizures, settlement expansions, and legalizations of outposts.”
“We oppose steps like these, which we believe are counterproductive to the cause of peace. In general, we’re deeply concerned about settlement construction and expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and the designation of land throughout the West Bank for exclusive Israeli use,” Kirby said.
The comments were made in response to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to approve plans to construct 560 new housing units in the Ma’ale Adumim region, located just outside Jerusalem, and nearly 600 new homes in an Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem. While Israeli officials claim that building the new settlements is necessary to respond to, and prevent, Palestinian attacks on Jewish settlers, the move has been roundly condemned.
“This raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by continuing statements of some Israeli ministers calling for the annexation of the West Bank,” the office of the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement attributed to him. “The Secretary-General is deeply disappointed that this announcement comes only four days after the Middle East Quartet called on Israel to cease its policy of settlement construction and expansion.”
The long-awaited report by the Middle East Quartet — a body comprising the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — listed construction and expansion of settlements as one of the key obstacles to peace in the region, contradicting the Israeli claim that it was a “myth” the settlements were undermining the peace process. According to the report, at least 570,000 Israelis are currently living in settlements in the West Bank, including in regions Palestine says should be part of its future state.
“The continuing policy of settlement construction and expansion, designation of land for exclusive Israeli use, and denial of Palestinian development is steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution,” the report said.
Israel captured East Jerusalem and regions in the West Bank in the Six-Day War in 1967, and has since exercised control over the territories in direct contravention of the United Nations resolutions 242 and 446, which call for the withdrawal of the Israeli military and an end to expansion of the settlements.
According to an estimate by Israeli nonprofit Peace Now, construction of 1,800 housing units, including nearly 1,550 permanent structures, began in West Bank settlements in 2015. Of these, at least 32 houses were built on private Palestinian land.