WASHINGTON: The United States rebuked Israel on Wednesday for approving more settlement building on Palestinian land, and warned its ally it is imperiling its own future as a democratic Jewish state.
In a strongly worded statement, the State Department said Israel’s approval of 300 housing units in the West Bank “is another step towards cementing a one state reality of perpetual occupation.”
The plan, spokesman Mark Toner argued, not only undermines hopes for peace with the Palestinians but “is fundamentally inconsistent with Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Washington has long opposed Israel’s policy of building Jewish settlements on land in the West Bank that would be claimed by the Palestinians in any negotiated “two state” peace deal.
The latest Israeli plan, Toner said, would see settlers build 300 housing units on land “far closer to Jordan than Israel… and make the possibility of a viable Palestinian state more remote.”
He added that Israel’s retroactive authorization of illegal outposts “contradicts previous public statements by the Government of Israel that it had no intention of creating new settlements.”
In recent weeks, US officials have adopted a more forceful tone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, accusing it of recklessly accelerating the program despite international concern.
In July, the Middle East Quartet — a contact group comprising the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations — issued a report calling on Israel to halt settlement building.
But since then, Washington says, the practice has only accelerated, with new housing blocks being approved, local administrative boundaries moved and illegal settlements retroactively approved.
Washington has condemned a recent deadly wave of Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians and police, and urged Palestinian leaders to refrain from incitement or provocative language.
But President Barack Obama’s White House has also taken a tougher tone with Netanyahu’s government, despite also signing off on a ten-year, $38 billion package of military aid for Israel.
This package, the biggest military aid deal in US history, was hailed by US and Israeli officials at last week’s funeral for former president Shimon Peres as a sign of enduring friendship.
But the State Department noted with concern that Israel had cast Washington’s advice on settlements aside even in the wake of the “unprecedented agreement on military assistance.”
“It is deeply troubling,” Toner said, “that Israel would take a decision so contrary to its long term security interest in a peaceful resolution of its conflict with the Palestinians.
“Furthermore, it is disheartening that while Israel and the world mourned the passing of President Shimon Peres … plans were advanced that would seriously undermine the prospects for the two state solution that he so passionately supported,” he added.
Peres died last week aged 93 and was buried on Friday at a Jerusalem ceremony attended by many world leaders, including Obama.