WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama’s administration on Monday said that Israel’s new settlement plans were “damaging” to efforts to forge a peace agreement with the Palestinians, as well as in conflict with US policy.

“The United States opposes all unilateral actions, including West Bank settlement activity and housing construction in east Jerusalem,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

“They complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations, and risk prejudging the outcome of those negotiations.”

Israel on Friday announced approval of 3,000 more homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, in addition to zoning and planning for the E1 corridor near Ma’aleh Adumim.

Toner called building in E1 “particularly sensitive,” adding that construction there would be “especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution.”

The statement sharpens the position of the US in reaction to the announcement, which was made on Friday.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had indicated her opposition to the move in softer language during an address on the Middle East on Friday night.

“These activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace,” she said then.

Toner’s statement also noted that the US had communicated its displeasure to Israel.

“We have made clear to the Israeli government that such action is contrary to US policy,” he said. “We urge the parties to cease unilateral actions and take concrete steps to return to direct negotiations.”

Toner later elaborated that he believed the US was “being evenhanded” in its criticism of both Israel and the Palestinians, which on Thursday upgraded their status at the UN to non-member observer state in a unilateral move opposed by Washington and Jerusalem.

The administration’s criticism of the settlement move was reportedly echoed in harsher language by former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who attended the Saban Forum with other leading US and Israeli political figures over the weekend.

During a closed session at the forum, Emanuel took Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to task for his treatment of Obama, according to comments made at an open session by former prime minister Ehud Olmert and referred to by David Remnick in The New Yorker.

Remnick wrote that Emanuel “had spoken angrily and bluntly about the way Netanyahu has repeatedly betrayed the friendship of the United States,” pointing to his “embarrassing the Obama administration by taking punitive actions against the Palestinian Authority” on Friday – after the administration voted against the Palestinians at the UN, supported Israel during the recent Gaza fighting and funded the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Emanuel was quoted elsewhere as also rapping Netanyahu for interfering in the US election, saying, “Netanyahu bet on the wrong man – and lost.”

He also reportedly lambasted Netanyahu for “lecturing” Obama during a meeting in 2011, about the danger that returning to the pre-1967 borders would pose to Israel. Emanuel did not respond to requests for comment.

The Prime Minister’s Office had no response to the remarks attributed to Emanuel.

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger