WASHINGTON - The United States on Friday warned that Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank would inflame Israeli-Palestinian tensions while impeding efforts to achieve a two-state solution.
“We believe it is critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and fundamentally undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution," a State Department official said. "This certainly includes settlement activity which will make achieving a two-state solution much more difficult. It’s critical to advance steps that will promote calm and reduce tensions."
While the language is relatively boilerplate for the administration when it comes to specific issues relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is the first U.S. comment on Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's plan to push for more than 2,000 Israeli settlement homes in the West Bank.
It also comes ahead of Bennett's and Biden's first meeting which is expected to take place at the end of the month. The Palestinian Authority had called on the U.S. to stop Israeli plans, saying that it ran counter to Biden's stance against settlement construction and unilateral steps.
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Two days ago, Israel gave initial approval to advance more than 800 housing units in Palestinian villages in the West Bank's Area C for the first time in years. An Israeli official said Bennett's announcement of the go-ahead for Palestinian construction alongside building 2,000 Israeli settlement homes was meant to legitimize settlement expansion. The source added that the decision was seen as a "calculated risk" vis-à-vis the Biden administration by government officials. It was also meant to stave off opposition by the left-wing partners of Bennett's government coalition.
An Israeli political source told Haaretz earlier this week that the Biden administration "will express opposition to this move, but everyone wants this impossible coalition in Israel to hold out... It was clear to Bennett that he would not have been able to advance this move after his meeting with Biden at the end of the month, so as not to damage their relations, and that's why he had to announce it as early as he did."