US says it ‘strongly’ opposes Israel’s settlement expansion plans

In rare criticism of Israeli government, Biden administration slams plans to build thousands of settlement units.

View of Jewish settlement
The Israeli settlement of Efrat is on the southern outskirts of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank - Israel has announced plans to build more illegal housing [File: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]

The Biden administration has voiced opposition to settlement expansion plans by Israel in the West Bank, saying that they damage “the prospects for a two-state solution” in a rare criticism of its Israeli allies.

Department of State spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday unambiguously rejected Israel’s recent push to build more settlements in the West Bank. He also criticised efforts to retroactively legalise irregular settlement outposts in the Palestinian territory.

“We are deeply concerned about the Israeli government’s plan to advance thousands of settlement units tomorrow, Wednesday, many of them deep in the West Bank,” Price said.

“In addition, we’re concerned about the publication of tenders on Sunday for 1,300 settlement units in a number of West Bank settlements. We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements, which is completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm.”

But asked whether Israel will face repercussions from the US administration over the plan, Price was non-committal.

“These are concerns that we have discussed at very senior levels, at the most senior levels, with our Israeli partners,” he said. “Our Israeli partners know where we stand, and we’ll continue to engage with them in our diplomacy on this.”

A Jewish settler walks past Israeli settlement construction sites around Givat Zeev and Ramat Givat Zeev in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, near Jerusalem, June 30, 2020 [File: Ammar Awad/Reuters]

On Monday, the United Nations also expressed concern about the Israeli announcement, saying that “all settlements are illegal under international law”.

Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in the 1967 war. Since then, it has occupied the land and been building settlements exclusive to Israeli citizens in the territory in what critics call a clear violation of the Geneva Convention.

In a report to the UN Human Rights Council in July, UN expert Michael Lynk concluded that the Israeli settlements amount to a war crime. In 2016, the UN Security Council condemned the settlements in a resolution that said they have “no legal validity”.

Since coming into office in January, President Joe Biden and his top aides have been reluctant to criticise Israel in public, other than issuing general warnings against steps that they say harm the two state-solution.

Biden has also rejected some US progressives’ calls to condition US aid to Israel, repeatedly stressing that his administration’s commitment to Israel’s security is “ironclad”.

Price’s comments on Tuesday came as Congress was expected to approve $1bn in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system, additionally to the $3.8bn Israel gets annually in military assistance. Biden has signalled support for the new funding.

Tensions between the Biden administration and the Israeli government appeared to emerge late last week after Israel designated six Palestinian NGOs as “terrorist organisations”.

“We believe respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible and responsive governance,” Price said on Friday when asked about the designation.

Source: Al Jazeera