The United States levied unusually harsh criticism at Israel on Tuesday, denouncing plans to seize a large tract of West Bank land for Israeli homes.
The State Department called on Israel to reverse its announced plan to appropriate nearly 1,000 acres in the occupied West Bank.
“We are deeply concerned about the declaration of a large area as ‘state land’ to be used for expanded settlement building,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. “We call on the Government of Israel to reverse this decision.”
The language was more pointed than U.S. spokesmen typically use, and the specific call to reverse an already declared decision was also unusual.
The United States considers Israeli settlements to be illegitimate and unhelpful but refrains from calling them illegal under international law. Other U.S. allies do call such settlements illegal, as the British government did on Monday.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry was expected to raise the announcement in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.
The West Bank land designated on Sunday for development is near current Israeli settlements, at least some of which would probably become part of Israel proper under a negotiated peace deal. The United States supports such mutually agreed land swaps if the two parties could reach a final peace deal. Kerry’s effort to broker such a deal collapsed this spring, and no new talks are planned.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said “the official policy of the government of Israel is first and foremost to focus on the settlement blocs, which would clearly remain under Israeli sovereignty in any [future] settlement,” according to the newspaper Haaretz.
The land is also near the site where three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped this summer and killed. The murder of those teens set the stage for weeks of conflict, including the seven-week war against Palestinian Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
Hanan Ashrawi, a leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the move “clearly represents Israel’s deliberate intent to wipe out any Palestinian presence on the land and to willfully impose a de facto one-state solution.”
Psaki also said Tuesday that “we are also very concerned by reports that new settlement and East Jerusalem construction or planning announcements may be issued at any time, including for [a] sensitive area,” in East Jerusalem.”
“These steps are contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they proceed,” she said.