US President Barack Obama's top national security aide on Thursday blamed
Israeli settlement expansion announcements for some of the latest
tensions between Israel and the Palestinians as US-brokered peace talks
between the two sides have faltered.
In a speech to a Washington
think tank, Susan Rice, Obama's national security adviser, said the
United States remained committed to Middle East peacemaking, but made it clear that it saw Jewish settlement construction plans as hampering
"We have seen increased tensions on the ground.
Some of this is a result of recent settlement announcements. So let me
reiterate: The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued
Israeli settlement activity," she said.
Her remarks to a
conference of the Middle East Institute drew applause from an audience
that included former and current US officials, foreign diplomats, some
from Arab countries, and regional experts.
echoed US Secretary of State John Kerry, who urged Israel on a visit to
the region last week to limit settlement building in occupied
- an activity he called "illegitimate" - to help push peace
talks back on track.
US-Israeli discord over settlements has
added to strains between the close allies over how to deal with Iran's
nuclear program. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has warned
that the United States and other world powers are negotiating a "bad
deal" with Tehran, Israel's arch-foe.
Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday his delegation of peace negotiators had
over the lack of progress in statehood talks with Israel. The
development would mark a new low point for the talks, which resumed in
Abbas suggested the negotiations would continue but that he would need a week to resume talks.
want to establish a state in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, an
area controlled by Hamas Islamists opposed to Abbas' peace moves, with east Jerusalem as the capital. They argue that Israeli settlements deny
them a viable country.
Since the talks resumed after a three-year
break, Israel has announced plans for several thousand new Jewish
settler homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
disclosure on Tuesday that Israel's Housing Ministry had commissioned
separate plans for nearly 24,000 more home
s for Israelis in the two
areas raised US concern and drew Palestinian condemnation.
an advocate of settlement construction, intervened later in the day,
ordering a halt to the projects
and saying he feared an international
outcry that would divert attention from Israel's lobbying against an
Iran nuclear deal.
Insisting that US opposition to settlement
activity was "not new" and had been US policy for decades, Rice said,
"The only way to resolve these kinds of critical issues is at the
She praised Netanyahu and Abbas for some "important steps" to spur the peace process, but acknowledged, "It won't be easy."
has accused the Palestinians of creating "artificial crises" over the
settlement issue and has said that most of Israel's building in the West
Bank and East Jerusalem is in areas it intends to keep in any future