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Biden administration warns Israel on reports of settlement expansion

White House says it doesn't want to see actions that make two-state solution 'that much more difficult to achieve'
This picture taken on 24 February 2023 shows ongoing construction works in the Jewish settlement of Givat Zeev, between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
This picture taken on 24 February 2023 shows ongoing construction work in Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev, between Jerusalem and Ramallah (AFP)

The Biden administration has repeated its criticism of Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, following a report that Israel plans to announce the building of thousands of housing units in the occupied territory.

During a press briefing on Monday, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby would not confirm if the Israeli government informed the administration about plans to announce settlement expansion, but said American policy opposes any unilateral decisions to advance settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Outposts and government-approved settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal under international law.

"We have long made clear our concerns about additional settlements in the West Bank, that we don't want to see actions taken that are going to make a two-state solution that much more difficult to achieve," Kirby said.

"We don't want to see steps taken that only increase the tensions and we’ve been very clear about that. Nothing’s changed about our policy."

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Axios reported on Monday that Israel informed the US it plans to build 4,000 housing units in several existing West Bank settlements.

The report comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government shelved plans to expand a settlement east of Jerusalem, which, if constructed, would divide the occupied West Bank in two.

The plans for the E1 settlement project, which would see 3,412 housing units built for Israeli settlers on occupied Palestinian lands, would connect the Kfar Adumim and Maale Adumim settlements with occupied East Jerusalem.

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The plan would effectively split the West Bank in half, isolating East Jerusalem from Palestinian communities in the West Bank and forcing Palestinians to make even lengthier detours to travel from one place to another while allowing for settlements housing Israelis to expand.

The US and the European Union have long objected to the settlement plan, warning successive Israeli administrations not to move forward with the project.

Under the Biden administration, Washington has issued statements in opposition to new Israeli settlement plans. In May, a State Department spokesperson rebuked the Israeli government's moves to legitimise the outpost of Homesh in the occupied West Bank, originally established on private Palestinian land.

“This order is inconsistent with both former Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon’s written commitment to the Bush Administration in 2004 and the current Israeli government’s commitments to the Biden Administration,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“Advancing Israeli settlements in the West Bank is an obstacle to the achievement of a two-state solution.”

Israel has repeatedly ignored US opposition when it comes to settlement expansion, including recently in February when the Israeli government announced it would be expanding Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

However, at the same time, Washington has moved to protect Israel's settlement policy, saying in that same month that it would oppose a resolution that would condemn Israeli settlements at the UN Security Council.

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