The Obama administration admonished Israel on Tuesday for approving 1,500 new Jewish homes in Arab East Jerusalem, saying continued building calls into question Israel’s commitment to peace talks and a separate, independent Palestinian state.
“We are deeply disappointed that Israel insists on continuing this pattern of provocative action,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
The unusually harsh rebuke to the closest U.S. ally in the Middle East reveals profound skepticism about whether the leadership of both Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank has the will to return to substantive talks.
“These repeated announcements and plans of new construction run counter to the cause of peace,” Nuland said. “Israel’s leaders continually say that they support a path toward a two-state solution, yet these actions only put that goal further at risk.”
An Israeli planning committee on Monday gave preliminary approval for the additional homes in the Ramat Shlomo settlement, an especially touchy project on land seized during the 1967 war and considered crucial for a viable Palestinian state. The plan is apparently retaliation for the Palestinians’ recent successful bid for upgraded status at the United Nations.
The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved de facto recognition of a Palestinian state on Nov. 29. The United States opposed the action on grounds that it undermined the goal of a negotiated settlement with Israel.
“We are not in a good cycle here. We need to break this cycle, end the provocative actions, and get these parties back to the table,” Nuland said. “It is not easy. It has not been easy for quite some time. We can’t want this more than the parties themselves want it. We are going to continue to work on it, and we’re going to continue to call it how we see it when either side takes provocative action.”
The housing announcement revived a plan shelved two years ago under heavy U.S. and European pressure. Israel embarrassed Vice President Biden by announcing the plan while he was visiting Israel in 2010, leading to a diplomatic breach that was slow to heal. Biden called the move a violation of trust, even though it appeared to also take his host, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, by surprise.
Netanyahu defended the project’s renewal against international criticism Tuesday.
“Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the state of Israel, and we will continue to build there,” Netanyahu said, according to the Associated Press.
The United States and many other governments consider Israeli settlements on Palestinian land to be illegal, but the United States does not always condemn Israel publicly.
Israeli officials said Tuesday that they will also start reviewing plans for 4,500 more homes in two other Jerusalem-area settlements.