State: US ‘strongly opposes’ Israeli settlement expansion
The Biden administration “strongly opposes” plans by the Israeli government to expand settlements in the West Bank, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Tuesday.
The statement marks an uptick in tough rhetoric towards Israel from the administration on an issue viewed as central to Palestinian national aspirations and has the potential to raise the risk of conflict.
Price said the more blunt language was a reflection of the seriousness of the issue, in response to a question from The Associated Press.
“Our public messaging on this is consistent with what we are seeing transpire. It only stands to reason that our public messaging may shift over time,” Price said.
An Israeli government council is expected to approve on Wednesday plans for nearly 3,000 units in West Bank settlements, according to Peace Now, an Israeli settlement watchdog group. The council is also expected to announce next month plans for at least 1,600 units for Palestinians.
Price on Tuesday said the U.S. is “deeply concerned” about the plans to advance thousands of settlements, in particular “deep in the West Bank” in addition to the government’s approval on Sunday of 1,300 construction tenders to take place in Israeli settlements.
“We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements which is completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm and it damages the prospects for a two state solution,” Price said.
“We have been consistent, as I said, and clear in our statements to this effect.”
Price added that the U.S. views as “unacceptable” plans for the retroactive legalization of illegal outposts — small tent communities or settlements set up independently by Israelis but that can gain recognition and state support.
“We continue to raise this issue directly with senior Israeli officials in our private discussions,” Price said.
The latest statements by the Biden administration reflect a departure from typically, consistent messaging.
Biden officials have usually refrained from the most blunt, outright criticism of settlement activity, but opposed “unilateral measures” from either side that would make it harder to achieve a negotiated, two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Conservative Israeli political leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, view the West Bank as part of Israel’s historic homeland, referring to the area as Judea and Samaria and the expansion of Jewish settlements as key to ensuring the land stays part of Israel if a two-state solution were to occur.
The Trump administration took a number of steps to increase U.S. support for Israeli settlements and legitimize their presence, in a departure from long-held U.S. policy.
Former secretary of State Mike Pompeo expanded commerce with Israeli businesses, and education and cultural exchanges in the West Bank, and was the most senior official to visit an Israeli settlement.
But supporters of a Palestinian state in the West Bank say that the expansion of Israeli settlements eats up territory for a contiguous, future nation and infringes on the rights of Palestinians, in particular those who dispute Israeli property claims to the land.
The partition of the West Bank stems from the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, which established the governing body of the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority, and divided the West Bank into Areas A, B and C.
The Palestinian Authority has exclusive control over Area A of the West Bank, and civil control over Area B, where Israel holds control over the security.
Israel holds full civil and security control of Area C of the West Bank, where the majority of settlements are located, and has come under criticism for creeping expansion into areas that Palestinian’s hope to include in any future state.
Efforts by the Israeli government in 2020 to annex the territory in Area C was halted in exchange for the United Arab Emirates establishing relations with Jerusalem, the agreement known as the Abraham Accords and established by the former Trump administration.