Israel on Friday rejected criticism voiced by the U.S. and the EU over recently announced plans to expand construction in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem. Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon described the international condemnation as "factually baseless."
"This week, the United Nations, the European Union and the U.S. state department criticized Israel regarding plans to build housing in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo," Nahshon said, making no mention of the fact that the international censure touched on a series of plans to build in the West Bank. "They did so knowing fully well that Gilo is a Jerusalem neighborhood that will be part of Israel under any conceivable peace agreement.
"The suggestion that building in Gilo undermines the solution based on two states for two peoples is factually baseless and distracts from the real obstacle to peace – the persistent Palestinian refusal the recognize the Jewish state in any borders," Nahshon said.
The U.S. State Department on Thursday published an exceptionally strong condemnation of a string of decisions by the Israeli government in recent weeks to expand construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
State Department spokesman John Kirby claimed that the U.S. has identified an "acceleration" of construction in the settlements and accused Israel of "a pattern of provocative and counterproductive action ... that systematically undermines the prospects for a two-state solution."
The statement came in the wake of a number of recent Israeli announcements of plans to advance construction projects in the West Bank. On Wednesday, a tender for 320 new housing units in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem was published; on Monday, a plan to build 770 housing units in Gilo, also past the Green Line, was announced, as well as plans to build more than 500 new units in Ma'ale Adumim and 42 in Kiryat Arba.
The string of announcements has sparked American anger, especially due to the fact the first were made only two days after the Quartet report on the stalemate in the peace process. The report severally criticized Israeli settlement construction, however the Americans exerted pressure on the Quartet to balance the report and make sure it also condemns the Palestinians for incitement and violence against Israelis. The U.S. joins a number of other nations and organizations who denounced Israel's construction, like the EU, the UN, the U.K., Germany, France, Turkey and Japan.
"We are deeply concerned," Kirby said in a statement. "We strongly oppose settlement activity, which is corrosive to the cause of peace. These steps by Israeli authorities are the latest examples of what appears to be a steady acceleration of settlement activity that is systematically undermining the prospects for a two- state solution."