WASHINGTON – "The United States opposes all unilateral actions, including West Bank settlement activity and housing construction in east Jerusalem, as they complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations, and risk prejudging the outcome of those negotiations," the State Department said in a statement Monday in response to Israel's plan to build an additional 3,000 housing units in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
"This includes building in the E-1 area, as this area is particularly sensitive and construction there would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution," spokesperson Mark Toner said.
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The so-called E-1 zone refers to a stretch of land connecting Ma'ale Adumim with Jerusalem.
"We have made clear to the Israeli government that such action is contrary to US policy. The United States and the international community expect all parties to play a constructive role in efforts to achieve peace," Toner added.
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"We urge the parties to cease unilateral actions and take concrete steps to return to direct negotiations so all the issues can be discussed and the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security can be realized."
Despite concerted criticism from Europe and the US on Monday over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to expand settlement building after the United Nations' de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood, The Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee is expected to discuss next week a plan to build an additional 1,600 housing units in the city's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood.
'Play a constructive role.' Clinton (Photo: Reuters)
The plan was approved by the Interior Ministry in March 2010 during Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel, but it was shelved shortly thereafter. A source who is familiar with the plan said it requires the approval of the Prime Minister's Office.
Britain, France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their capitals to hear appeals for Netanyahu to reverse course and deep disapproval of the plan to erect 3,000 more homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
An official in Netanyahu's office said Israel would not bend. "Israel will continue to stand by its vital interests, even in the face of international pressure, and there will be no change in the decision that was made," the official said.
The settlement plan, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, would deal "an almost fatal blow" to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We don't want to shift into sanctions mode," French President Francois Hollande told a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. "We are more focused on persuading."
Britain's Foreign Office said, "We deplore the recent Israeli decision to build 3,000 new housing units and unfreeze development in the E1 block. We have called on the Israeli government to reverse the decision."
But a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron played down what diplomatic sources said was the possibility of recalling Britain's ambassador in Tel Aviv, saying: "We are not proposing to do anything further at this stage."
France expressed "serious concerns" to the Israeli ambassador but, responding to reports Paris might bring its Tel Aviv envoy home, said: "There are other ways in which we can express our disapproval."
Reuters contributed to this report