White House warns against ‘expansion of settlement activity’

179 homes retroactively legalized in Ofarim, plans advanced for 234 units in Elkana • 50 other homes approved.

Efrat settlement, West Bank (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Efrat settlement, West Bank
The White House lashed out at Israel over its announcement Wednesday of settlement plans, warning that such activity increasingly threatens the two-state solution.
“This is not the first time that we have heard an announcement like this from the Israeli government,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at a gaggle aboard Air Force One.
“This significant expansion of settlement activity poses a serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution.”
“We have been quite unambiguous about the concerns that we have; and in terms of considering a different kind of response, I don’t think that is something that we would discuss publicly,” Earnest continued. “I think that we would start by having that conversation privately.”
Earnest issued his statement in response to news that the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria had met earlier in the day.
It authorized 50 settler homes, retroactively legalized 179 settler units just over the Green Line and advance plans for a 234-unit project for senior housing in Elkana.
The State Department also expressed grave concern over what it sees as a “very significant acceleration of Israeli settlement activity” since the Middle East Quartet released a report on the Palestinian conflict last month.
Israel’s activity “runs directly counter to the conclusions of the report,” Edgar Vasquez, a spokesman for the State Department, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
“So far this year Israel has promoted plans for over 2,500 units, including over 700 units retroactively approved, in the West Bank.”
Vasquez said the US is particularly troubled by Israel’s decision to retroactively approve “unauthorized settlement units and outposts that are illegal under Israeli law.”
The July report from the Quartet, which is composed of the US, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, expressed concern over systematic Israeli land seizures and settlement expansions, which it argues fundamentally undermine the prospects for a two-state solution.
“These policies have effectively given the Israeli government’s green light for the pervasive advancement of settlement activity in a new and potentially unlimited way,” Vasquez said.
“This significant expansion of the settlement enterprise poses a very serious and growing threat to the viability of the two-state solution.”
His words echoed those expressed by UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, who condemned what he called “the expanding Israeli footprint” in the West Bank.
He took issue with continued settlement building, the advancement of plans and retroactive legalization of settler homes and outposts.
At the initiative of the Palestinian Authority, the UN Security Council plans to hold a meeting in October to debate Israeli settlement activity.
Israel has insisted that settlement activity has no bearing on the two-state solution and that the only necessary ingredient for the resolution of the conflict is for the Palestinians to sit down to negotiate a peace deal with Israel.
The Prime Minister’s Office had no response to the US statement.
The Knesset Land of Israel Caucus, led by MK Yoav Kisch (Likud) and MK Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi), said that approvals and advancements reflected only a fraction of the needed housing in Judea and Samaria.
They charged that the lack of approvals is akin to a freeze, which is an “irredeemable injustice.”
Peace Now, which monitors settlement building, issued a short report on settlement activity after Wednesday’s meeting of the Higher Planing Council.
It charged that from January of this year until now, the council had helped retroactively legalize 756 illegal settler homes.
Out of those, 384 already existing illegal settler homes were given approvals, and plans were advanced to retroactively legalize another 372 such structures.
Such approvals, it charged, abet illegal settler construction because it gives “settlers the message that any construction done without planning will be retroactively legalized.”
In its mini-report Peace Now also explains that the council has advanced plans for 1,246 settler homes this year and approved the construction of 605 units.
Those numbers include Wednesday’s activity by the Higher Planning Council, Peace Now said.
The council retroactively legalized 179 homes in the Ofarim settlement, which is located 3.3 kilometers beyond the pre-1967 lines.
It approved 30 new homes in nearby Beit Aryeh. Both communities are close to Tel Aviv.
The council authorized 20 new homes in the Givat Ze’ev settlement located just outside of Jerusalem.
In addition, it advanced a 234- unit project for senior housing in the settlement of Elkana, outside of Tel Aviv in Samaria, Peace Now said.
Still, in spite of the number of plans that have been advanced, the number of homes under construction in 2016 remains low compared to past years.
The number of housing starts in West Bank settlements dropped by 53 percent in the first quarter of 2016, compared to the same period the previous year, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. This means that ground was broken for 331 settler homes from January to March of this year, compared to the starts on 705 such units in 2015.
Separately, the number of finished settler homes rose by 14.9 percent in the first quarter of 2016, compared to that same period in 2015. This translated into the completion of 610 settler homes in the first three months of this year, compared with 531 such houses that were completed from January to March in 2015.