State Dept. slams new West Bank housing approval


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Obama administration said it "does not accept the legitimacy" of announced plans for up to 851 new housing units for West Bank settlements.

"We’re very clear that continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts and contradicts Israeli commitments and obligations, including the 2003 ‘road map,’ " Mark Toner, the State Department spokesman, said Wednesday. "Our position on settlements remains unchanged. We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. And we want to see these parties – both parties, rather — refrain from these kinds of actions and to get back into negotiations."

The announcement Wednesday by Israel’s Housing and Construction Ministry came in the wake of the defeat of a bill in Knesset that would have retroactively legalized illegal West Bank outposts.

Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias said Wednesday evening that in addition to the 300 housing units promised to Beit El in exchange for relocating five apartment buildings housing 30 families, he would approve 551 more in Ariel, Maale Adumim, Adam, Efrat and Kiryat Arba.

The United Nations official tasked with the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, called Israel’s announcement "deeply troubling" and reiterated that it violates international law.

“All settlement construction – whether on private Palestinian land or elsewhere in occupied Palestinian territory – is contrary to international law,” said a statement issued by the office of the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said his organization is "profoundly disappointed" by the decision to build more houses in the West Bank, pointing out that some of the settlements proposed to receive the housing are outside of major settlement blocs. Ben-Ami did praise the government’s decision to enforce the Supreme Court’s order to remove the contested buildings from the Ulpana neighborhood, however. 

Earlier Wednesday during a news conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed West Bank settlers directly.

"There is no government that supports, or will support, settlement more than my government," he said. "I also say that there is no government that has withstood such heavy pressures, which could have hurt settlement, and it must be understood that ours is a very complex diplomatic, national and legal environment. And in this complex reality, one must navigate wisely, sagaciously and responsibly. Thus the members of the government and myself have acted up until now and thus we will continue to act. We will continue to strengthen settlement and we will continue to strengthen democracy in the State of Israel."

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