US condemns Israel’s plan to expand illegal settlements
The Obama administration condemned Israel’s approval of a plan to build new settlement homes on Palestinian land. The State Department argued in astatement on Wednesday that the new settlement’s in the West Bank “would further damage the prospects for a two-state solution.”
“We strongly condemn the Israeli government’s recent decision to advance a plan that would create a significant new settlement deep in the West Bank,” State Department Spokesperson Mark C. Toner said in the statement.
The Israeli Foreign ministry released a statement on Wednesday denying that the plan would create a new settlement and claimed that the Palestinian rejection of the Jewish state is the real obstacle to peace.
“The 98 housing units approved in Shilo do not constitute a ‘new settlement.’ This housing will be built on state land in the existing settlement of Shilo and will not change its municipal boundary or geographic footprint,” the statement said.
According to Josh Ruebner, the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the plan violates international law whether or not a new settlement is created.
“Regardless of whether it’s an expansion of an existing settlement or a new settlement, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “All settlement activity is illegal under international law and no settlements should be tolerated no matter what their status is.”
Ruebner also said that Israeli settlements are an obstacle to creating a Palestinian state.
“Israeli settlements expropriate and steal Palestinian land devastating its economy, making the notion of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank more and more impossible as more and more land is taken up by Israel for these settlements,” he said.
Israel announced the “housing units” shortly after the U.S. and Israel signed a multi-billion dollar defense agreement. The deal would provide Israel with $38 billion in military financing over ten years, the largest pledge of foreign aid in U.S. history.
“It is deeply troubling, in the wake of Israel and the U.S. concluding an unprecedented agreement on military assistance designed to further strengthen Israel’s security, that Israel would take a decision so contrary to its long term security interest in a peaceful resolution of its conflict with the Palestinians,” Toner said.
Ruebner argued that Israel’s actions in the wake of the defense agreement demonstrates the failures of the United States’ “carrots and no sticks” approach to Israel.
“We give Israel ever increasing amounts of U.S. weapons financed by taxpayers and basically still defy U.S. policy goals and international law when it comes to settlements,” Ruebner said.
Besides issuing a statement, the Obama administration also strongly criticized Israel during a press briefing by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.
“We did receive public assurances from the Israeli government that contradict this announcement,” Earnest said. “I guess when we’re talking about how good friends treat one another, that’s a source of serious concern as well.”
Ruebner said that while the State Department’s condemnation was strong, it means little if the U.S. does not use its leverage to pressure Israel to change.
“The statement put out by the Department of State yesterday was possibly the strongest ever condemning the expansion of Israeli settlements but it really doesn’t matter the degree to which the United States is harsh in its condemnation of this settlement expansion,” he said. “The missing ingredient here is the willingness to apply sanctions to Israel to modify its behavior in order to achieve stated U.S. policy goals.”