Settlement building isolates Israel internationally and undermines the possibility of a two-state solution, the White House charged in response to the Israel Lands Authority’s issuance of tenders for 450 homes in the West Bank on Friday.
“We have deep concerns about these highly contentious settlement construction announcements.
They will have detrimental impacts on the ground, inflame already heightened tensions with the Palestinians and further isolate the Israelis internationally,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in Washington.
Such announcements, he said, harms the US’s ability to build international support for Israel.
“The United States, as a close ally of Israel, works – you know, uses our diplomatic influence around the globe to try to build support for Israel, and an announcement like this only serves to further isolate them,” he said.
“Settlements are illegitimate and counterproductive to achieving a two-state solution,” Earnest said. “I can tell you that issuing tenders like this does nothing to bolster Israel’s security, it does not increase its prosperity and it does not further the cause of peace, in fact it does precisely the opposite.”
The list of tenders includes the following projects: 156 homes in Elkana, 114 homes in Geva Binyamin (Adam), 102 in Kiryat Arba and 78 in Alfei Menashe.
In addition, tenders were published for a hotel in Ma’aleh Adumim, as well as for business buildings in that city and in Emmanuelnorth of Ariel.
According to Peace Now, a plan to construct 93 homes in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo was deposited for public review with a municipal planning committee.
A senior government official downplayed the significance of the ILA announcement.
“Contrary to reports, there has been no authorization for new construction,” the official said.
This is merely the automatic recycling of construction procedures for housing units authorized and announced over a year ago, during the negotiations with the Palestinians, which were known to all parties, the representative said.
“No new housing units have been authorized or added.”
The official’s words did not placate the US or the European Union, which similarly condemned the announcement.
Settlements “are illegal in international law and constitute an obstacle to peace,” a representative of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Friday.
“Israel should reverse these decisions, thereby putting an end to settlement expansion. The decisions risk inflaming the very tense situation on the ground,” the representative said.
PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the world should recognize a Palestinian state in response to the tenders.
“We call on the international community to recognize the State of Palestine,” Erekat said. He also said it should “ban all settlement products and to divest from companies and institutions linked directly or indirectly with the Israeli occupation and apartheid policies.”
Such settlement building, he said, proved that the Palestinians must seek a two-state solution through the international community and not by directly negotiating with Israel.
“This should serve as yet another reminder that empty calls for resumption of negotiations are not a substitute for justice and will not save the two-state solution,” Erekat said.
Many Palestinians argue that only an imposed international solution can end the conflict and that negotiations with Israel are fruitless. The US, however, has continued to work behind the scenes to return the two to the negotiating table.
On Tuesday, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “We continue to believe that final-status negotiations are the only way for the parties to reach a peaceful resolution, and we continue to work to move forward that objective.”
The last US-led round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations ended in April 2014, with no tangible signs of progress.
Israel has insisted that settlement building has no relationship to the peace process, and that such construction continued during past periods of negotiation, such as after Oslo in the 1990s, Camp David in 2000 and Annapolis in 2008.
It has further noted that the 10-month moratorium Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implemented on construction over the Green Line from November 2009 to September 2010 did not lead to renewed negotiations.
The Palestinians, in turn, have said that settlement activity is illegal under international law and must be halted.
“Once again we call upon the international community to stop treating Israel as a state above the law and to support our diplomatic initiatives, which aim to preserve the two-state solution and to end the Israeli oppression of our people,” Erekat said.
Netanyahu’s opponents immediately attacked him over the publication of the tenders and noted that the announcement, which comes in the midst of the election campaign, also followed a diplomatic spat between US President Barack Obama and the White House.
Peace Now, which opposes any Jewish building over the pre-1967 lines, immediately said that it was yet another attempt by Netanyahu to embarrass Obama.
“It is a preelection grab to establish facts on the ground made by the Netanyahu government. After embarrassing the Obama administration with the invitation to Congress, Netanyahu adds another slam in the face to the Americans, and showing no respect to Israel’s closest ally,” the NGO’s executive director, Yariv Oppenheimer, said.
Former ambassador to the US Michael Oren, who is running for Knesset on the Koolanu ticket, said it was a mistake for Israel to announce the new housing units.
“In light of the events of this week [Hezbollah’s attack on the northern border], a more appropriate Zionist response would have been to build in the Golan Heights and northern communities, ratheer than in Kiryat Arba,” Oren said.
“This move certainly does not contribute to our relationship with the United States. It does not strengthen Israel’s ability to defend itself, nor does it allow it to garner international support for that defense.”
Labor MK Stav Shaffir slammed both Netanyahu and Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett.
Both men, she said, have a “distorted sense of priorities” in which they focus attention and funds on a small sector of society rather then looking out for the greater good.