Washington, D.C. – The United States has renewed its opposition to Israeli settlement policies, saying Washington was “extremely alarmed” by an Israeli law paving the way for the re-establishment of illegal settlements in the north of the occupied West Bank.
State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters Tuesday that the law, passed hours earlier by the Knesset, violates Israeli commitments to Washington against settlement advances in the area.
“The legislative changes announced today are extremely provocative and counterproductive to efforts to restore calm as we head into Ramadan, Passover and Easter holidays,” Patel said.
He added that the US is “strongly urging” Israel to refrain from returning settlers to the area, parts of which are privately owned by Palestinians.
The law, which passed by a vote of 31 to 18 in the early hours of Tuesday, ends a 2005 Israeli measure that ordered the evacuation of four settlement outposts in the northern West Bank.
On Tuesday, Patel went on to broadly criticize the expansion of Israeli settlements. “This is something we’ve been very clear about specifically — that the growth of settlements and outposts is inconsistent with our views on what steps are needed to move us peacefully to a negotiated two-state solution,” he said in a news report. briefing.
Despite the strong words, Patel was repeatedly pressed by reporters about what the Biden administration is doing to stop Israel from moving forward with its settlement plans, and he failed to outline any measures beyond discussing the issue with Israeli officials.
Israel, accused of imposing an apartheid system by leading human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, receives at least $3.8 billion annually in US aid.
“I’m not going to stand here and list a litany of all the ways we can hold our Israeli partners accountable,” Patel said Tuesday.
A White House statement describing a phone call between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday made no mention of US criticism of the settlements. Instead, the White House said Biden “reiterated his unwavering commitment to Israel’s security” during the call.
Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, in 1967. Since then, it has built settlements for hundreds of thousands of Israelis in the occupied territories, which the Palestinians seek as part of their future state.
International law expressly prohibits occupying powers from transferring their civilian populations to occupied territories. The United Nations has called Israeli settlements a “war crime.”
“Our commitment to Israel’s security and concerns about Israel’s security are rock solid,” Patel said Tuesday. “But I will also note that – when necessary – we have very frank and honest conversations with our Israeli partners.”
The State Department also denounced recent comments by far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who claimed that the Palestinian people are “an invention” of the past century.
Smotrich spoke in Paris at a lectern showing a map of the so-called Greater Israel, an area that claims to include the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as parts of Jordan and Syria. His comments and the map drew rebukes from the Arab and international communities.
“Mr. Smotrich’s latest comments, delivered on a dais adorned with an inaccurate and provocative map, are offensive,” said Patel of the State Department.
“They are very concerning, and quite frankly, they are dangerous. The Palestinians have a rich history and culture, and the United States greatly values our partnership with the Palestinian people.”
Smotrich sparked outrage and condemnation from the US in early March for saying the Palestinian village of Huwara should be wiped out.
But the Biden administration resisted calls by Palestinian human rights lawyers to revoke his visa, allowing the Israeli minister weeks after his remarks to attend a conference in Washington, D.C., which the US described as “abhorrent.”
Asked on Tuesday whether Washington will take practical action against Smotrich, Patel said he has no “leads” to offer.