Israel's decision to expedite construction in Jerusalem, Ma'ale Adumim and Gush Etzion drew widespread criticism by the international community on Wednesday.
Using identical language, the White House and State Department said the administration was "deeply disappointed" in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's settlement decision.
- PM speeds up Jerusalem construction
- US cuts off $60M UNESCO funding
- UNESCO grants Palestinians full membership
"Unilateral actions work against efforts to resume direct negotiations, and they do not advance the goal of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the two parties," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday. "And that is the only way to achieve the two-state solution that both sides have as their goal. So any action ... that either side takes that makes it harder rather than easier for the two parties to come together in direct negotiations is something that we oppose."
"We continue to make our opposition to this clear to the government of Israel," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters. She also criticized a separate Israeli decision to suspend temporarily the transfer of millions of dollars in Palestinian tax revenue that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
Construction in Jerusalem (Photo: AFP)
"We believe that the regular transfer of money, whether it's US money, whether it's Israeli money, is important and should continue to be made. These are key to strengthening Palestinian institutions and are necessary for funding the future of the state," she said.
She said the Israeli moves, along with the Palestinians' insistence on winning UN recognition, were driving the peace process "in the wrong direction."
The European Union also expressed deep concern about Israel's decision
"I am deeply concerned by the latest Israeli decisions," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement, adding that settlement building was against international law.
"We call on Israel to reverse this decision and call on both sides to continue their engagement with the Quartet on advancing peace efforts," Ashton said, referring to the group of Middle East peace brokers.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague also condemned the announcement, calling it a serious blow to efforts to restart peace talks.
"This settlement building program is illegal under international law and is the latest in a series of provocative and unhelpful settlement announcements," he said in a statement. "We need to see steps towards peace, not actions that divide and isolate the parties further and undermine the prospects for negotiations."
Netanyahu at the Knesset (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was Israel's right and obligation to build in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu made the statements speaking before the Knesset plenum as part of a special session in memory of former Minister Rehavam (Gandhi) Ze'evi who was murdered 10 years ago by the PFLP. The Knesset observed a moment of silence in Ze'evi's memory.
In the wake of Israel's announcement of expediting construction in the Jerusalem area in response to the Palestinian Authority's admittance to UNESCO, Netanyahu said: "We shall keep developing Jerusalem, its neighborhoods, landscapes, sites and people.
"We build in Jerusalem because it is our right and obligation to this generation and the next – not as punishment but as a basic right of our people to build our eternal capital."
Talking about Gandhi, he said, "Each of us who knew him knows how deeply engraved Jerusalem was in his soul. It was the center of his being, it towered above all else in his world view."
Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni also spoke before the plenum and said, "It appears that what is most conspicuously missing with Gandhi's absence is his leadership."
AP, Reuters and Moran Azulay contributed to this report
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