By Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk
WASHINGTON -The United States on Tuesday said it strongly opposed Israel’s plans for Jewish settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank as damaging for peace prospects between Israelis and Palestinians, in the Biden administration’s harshest public criticism of Israeli settlement policy to date.
“We are deeply concerned about the Israeli government’s plan to advance thousands of settlement units tomorrow, Wednesday, many of them deep in the West Bank,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told a briefing.
“We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements, which is completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm, and it damages the prospects for a two-state solution,” Price said.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Israel on Sunday published tenders for about 1,300 new settlement homes in the occupied West Bank and authorities are also expected to discuss proposals for another 3,000 homes.
Washington was continuing to raise its views on the issue directly with senior Israeli officials, Price said.
U.S.-backed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014. Most countries regard Israel’s West Bank settlements as illegal. Israel disputes this.
Israeli settlement activity is a source of disagreement between Israel and Washington, together with U.S. efforts to revive the international nuclear deal with Iran, Israel’s arch foe.
Since President Joe Biden took office in January, U.S. officials have emphasized that they oppose further expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied land the Palestinians want for a future state.
A senior Biden administration official said earlier this month that Israel was aware of the administration’s view of the need to refrain from actions that could be seen as “provocative” and undermine efforts to achieve a long-elusive two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had until Sunday mostly held off announcing new settlement construction since taking office in June, as he sought to ease tensions with Washington.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk; additional reporting by Matt SpetalinickEditing by Chris Reese and Sonya Hepinstall)