US condemns new Israeli settlement project

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday condemned the Israeli government’s plan to build approximately 300 homes in three West Bank settlements.

The US statement said, in part, that the Trump administration opposes settlement construction, “not least because it benefits terrorists.”

“We also continue to find it troubling that Israel continues to build in areas that Israel occupied in 1967 and which have been the subject of diplomatic negotiations for more than a half century. We call on Israel to abide by its international obligations and to live up to its international commitments. The settlements in and around Jerusalem are of primary concern,” it said.

A Palestinian official said the United States has to be “warned,” calling the new settlement building in the West Bank “unacceptable.”

“There’s no other way except to be warned by the United States and the international community,” Rima Khalaf, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told The Associated Press.

Settlements are illegal under international law and widely viewed as the primary obstacle to a two-state solution. The number of settlements rose by about 4,000 over the past decade, the AP said. Israel disputes this characterization.

The decision to appeal to Europe on behalf of Palestinian citizens was described as a reaction to a “bloody campaign of incitement against Israeli Arabs by radical groups in the Israeli left.”

“Violent incitement is pushed by the Israeli state, called by the Israeli media by influential politicians in Israel,” said Khalaf. “It is run by the Israeli state, co-opting Arab organizations, and criminalizing activities by human rights defenders who oppose settlements, see the root causes of the terrorism, and who are willing to expose the complicity of Israeli society, the impunity of Israeli society to settler terrorism.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said his cabinet will approve the settlement housing plans next week. The Palestinian community is among the fastest growing in Israel and settler groups complain that they cannot build because of Palestinian protests against the construction of Jewish enclaves deep in the West Bank.

Netanyahu said the three neighborhoods being added are called Bruchin, Ofra and Maale Adumim. Ofra is a settlement near Jerusalem considered sacred by Jews and known to Palestinians as al-Ram. Bruchin and Maale Adumim are parts of an area of the West Bank known as E1 that the Palestinians want to connect their state with east Jerusalem.

Netanyahu said the ruling coalition will “soar again with increased strength.”

“My coalition will soar again with additional strength and I am sure that we will keep building, because we care about the future of our people,” Netanyahu said in his weekly cabinet meeting, the Israeli news website Ynet reported.

Netanyahu, who is seeking re-election in April, also visited foreign ambassadors in Jerusalem to discuss U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria and advancing Israel’s interests in the Mideast peace process.

In the framework of these efforts, the prime minister extended an invitation to Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni to join the government. Livni, a longtime negotiator in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and Ehud Barak, the former head of Israel’s military intelligence, are both representing the opposition in the upcoming election.

“I am proud of these extraordinary Israeli statesmen,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Their joint efforts to advance the country and advance the future of our children are something that we should all be grateful for.”

Like Israel’s majority-Jewish population, 80 percent of the 1.4 million Israeli Arabs live in the country’s most religious and conservative sectors, where Jews enjoy better pay and privileges. The estimated 270,000 Palestinian citizens make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population.

Click for more from The Associated Press.

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