Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, who is considered one of President Barack Obama's closest advisors, told reporters shortly after the UN Security Council vote in favor of an anti-settlement resolution that the president and Secretary of State John Kerry have warned Israel time and again over recent years both publicly and privately that continued settlement expansion would lead to growing international pressure on Israel.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "had an opportunity to lead a policy that would get a different outcome," Rhodes said. "If we didn’t see acceleration in settlement activity and wouldn’t hear that kind of rhetoric from the Israeli government than maybe the U.S. would have taken take a different view. The fact this is happening towards the end of our eight year shows that this is not our preferred course of action. Obama gave speech after speech and kept warning that the trends will lead to greater international efforts to pressure on Israel We were compelled to do it because of the choices that were made over years by the Israeli government in building settlements and not taking different opportunities that were presented to promote the peace process."
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Rhodes explained that in in recent years the Obama administration had become increasingly concerned with the expansion of settlements, as well as the growing violence and intensifying incitement on the Palestinian side. Both issues, he said, were addressed in the UNSC resolution that was approved. "We thought we couldn’t in good conscience veto such a resolution. In absence of peace process and in the face of accelerated settlement activity we had no other choice but to not veto this."
Obama's senior advisor rejected the criticism voiced by the Prime Minister's Office over the last day, and said it was full of "falsehoods and inaccuracies." Obama had done more for the security of Israel than any past president, he said, including the signing of a $38 billion military aid agreement. "With this criticism it seems the Israeli government wants the conversation to be about everything but settlements," Rhodes said.
He mentioned a sharp rise in the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, who now number 590 thousand, 90 thousand of them in isolated settlements beyond the security barrier. According to him, the growth in settlement building is not taking place in what Israel calls "the settlement blocs" but in the entire West Bank.
"Netanyahu said his government is more committed to settlements than any other government, so we are very concerned," Rhodes said. "We can't simply have the 2-state solution be a slogan when on the ground it is becoming less and less viable."
Kerry also commented on the resolution Friday, calling on Israel and the Palestinians to advance prospects for a two-state solution.
Kerry said in a statement that the United States did not agree with every aspect of the resolution. But he said the UN measure "rightly condemns violence and incitement and settlement activity and calls on both sides to take constructive steps to reverse current trends and advance the prospects for a two state solution."