Israel Approves New Housing Units; US Concerned

Israel has approved the construction of a total of 284 new homes in the occupied West Bank, consisting of a 234-unit nursing home in Elkana, 30 homes in Beit Arye, and 20 homes in Givat Zeev. The U.S. reportedly criticized the move.

Additionally, retrospective permits were issued for 179 existing homes, according to watchdog group Peace Now. 

The U.S. State Department is “deeply concerned” about the “very serious and growing threat” to peace with Palestinians, the BBC reports.

U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters anonymously said the strong language from the State Department indicates a shift in tone -- a much stronger tone -- than previously seen.

Settlements in the West Bank are considered illegal by international law, but since the beginning of Israel’s 1967 occupation, approximately 570,000 Israelis have settled there. Israel disagrees with the illegality of the settlements.

A top U.S. official said the move by Israel "fundamentally undermines the prospects for a two-state solution and risks entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict.”

Several attempts have been made by the U.S. to broker peace talks between Israel and Palestine, but there are currently no indications any progress will be made.

"We are particularly troubled by the policy of retroactively approving unauthorized settlement units and outposts that are themselves illegal under Israeli law," John Kirby, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said at a news briefing in Washington. "These policies have effectively given the Israeli government a green light for the pervasive advancement of settlement activity in a new and potentially unlimited way."

Nikolav Mladenov, special coordinator for the U.N.’s peace talks in the Middle East, also criticized the move, saying: "It is difficult to read in these actions a genuine intention to work towards a viable two-state solution. This appears to reinforce a policy, carried out over decades, that has enabled over half a million Israelis to settle in territory that was occupied militarily in 1967."

Israel disregarded the criticism.

"Jews have been in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria for thousands of years, and their presence there is not an obstacle to peace," a spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah asked for help from the international community to pressure Israel to stop the expansion of further settlements.

Previously, the U.S., the U.N, the E.U. and Russia joined in a report calling for Israel to cease its settlement and expansion activity. Since the report’s issuance in July, however, the State Department notes that settlement activity has actually grown.

Sources: ReutersBBC, Peace Now / Photo credit: Brian Holsclaw/Flickr

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