WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is once again condemning Israel for plans to construct housing on land claimed by the Palestinians, saying that a new project announced last week profoundly hurts efforts to forge a two-state solution to the long-running conflict.
In unusually strong statements, the White House and State Department lashed out at a proposal announced last week to construct a significant new settlement of up to 300 housing units and establish an industrial zone in the West Bank.
"Proceeding with this new settlement is another step towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation that is fundamentally inconsistent with Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state," spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement. "Such moves will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from many of its partners, and further call into question Israel's commitment to achieving a negotiated peace."
Toner said the proposal was "deeply troubling" because Israel announced the proposal so soon after the US agreed last month to a new 10-year, $38 billion military aid package for Israel. He also said it was "disheartening" as the announcement came the world was mourning the death of former Israeli President and Prime Minister Shimon Peres. US officials said the administration was particularly disturbed because the announcement came as President Barack Obama was visiting Jerusalem last week for the Peres' state funeral.
"It is deeply troubling, in the wake of Israel and the US concluding an unprecedented agreement on military assistance designed to further strengthen Israel's security, that Israel would take a decision so contrary to its long term security interest in a peaceful resolution of its conflict with the Palestinians," he said. "Furthermore, it is disheartening that while Israel and the world mourned the passing of President Shimon Peres, and leaders from the US and other nations prepared to honor one of the great champions of peace, plans were advanced that would seriously undermine the prospects for the two-state solution that he so passionately supported."
Later in the day, the White House sharply criticized Israel over the decision, which the administratiob says undermines the peace process and contradicts assurances from Jerusalem.
"We did receive public assurances from the Israeli government that contradict this announcement," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a news briefing. "I guess when we're talking about how good friends treat one another, that's a source of serious concern as well."
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented in reply, "The 98 housing units approved in Shilo do not constitute a 'new settlement.' This housing will be built on state land in the existing settlement of Shilo and will not change its municipal boundary or geographic footprint. The units are intended to provide a housing solution for the residents of Amona who must leave their homes in accordance with the demolition order issued by Israel's High Court of Justice.
"Israel remains committed to a solution of two states for two peoples, in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state of Israel. The real obstacle to peace is not the settlements—a final status issue that can and must be resolved in negotiations between the parties—but the persistent Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state in any boundaries."
The US, which has repeatedly criticized Israel for such projects, has refrained from imposing consequences for the actions.