US ‘deeply troubled’ by Israel’s approval of settler building permits in West Bank

JERUSALEM: The United States yesterday objected to a decision by Israel’s nationalist-religious government to approve the construction of around 5,700 additional housing units for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.

The United States was “deeply troubled” by the move, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters, adding that US officials had made clear publicly and privately to Israel their opposition to moves that advance settlements.

Most countries deem the settlements, built on land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, as illegal. Their presence is one of the fundamental issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We believe that settlements are an impediment to a negotiated two-state solution,” said Miller.

The plans for approval of the housing units in various areas of the West Bank were approved by Israel’s Supreme Planning Council. Final approvals were given to 818 units while the others were in various stages of approval. Jewish settler leadership praised the decision.

“I thank the Israeli government for the continued development of Israeli settlement,” said Shlomo Ne’man, head of the West Bank Gush Etzion Regional Council and chairman of the Yesha Council.

“Especially in these difficult days, this is the most appropriate Zionist answer to all those who seek to destroy us.”

Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as their capital. Israeli settlers cite Jewish historic connections to the land. Peace talks that had been brokered by the United States have been frozen since 2014.

Washington, which has at times had a tense relationship with the six-month old coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has repeatedly warned Israeli officials that settlement expansion is an obstacle to peace with Palestinians.

“The expansion of settlements undermines the geographic viability of a two-state solution, exacerbates tensions, and further harms trust between the two parties,” a US National Security Council spokesman said.

“We are similarly concerned by reports of changes to Israel’s system of settlement administration that expedite the planning and approval of settlements,” Miller said.

Since entering office in January, Netanyahu’s coalition has approved the promotion of more than 7,000 new housing units, most deep in the West Bank.

“The Israeli government is pushing us at an unprecedented pace towards the full annexation of the West Bank,” the Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said in a statement.

A surge of violence over the past few weeks in the West Bank has included rampages by scores of Israeli settlers in Palestinian towns and villages that drew international condemnation and concern from the White House. The violence followed the killing of four Israelis in a Hamas gun ambush.

The Israeli military said yesterday that an Israeli soldier was suspected “of taking part in a violent confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians” last week in the Palestinian town of Umm Safa. “The soldier was apprehended and investigated by the Israel police,” the military said in a statement.

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