U.S. denounces Netanyahu’s plans for new settler homes in West Bank

Demonstrators came out on the streets of occupied Jerusalem after the rejection of a bill that would retroactively legalize dwellings that have been built on land owned by individual Palestinians. (Reuters)

The United States Wednesday denounced Israeli plans to expand a West Bank settlement by 300 homes, saying it posed a hurdle towards kickstarting moribund peace talks with the Palestinians.

“We’re very clear that continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts and contradicts Israeli commitments and obligations,” said a State Department spokesman, Mark Toner.

“You know, our position on settlements remains unchanged. We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Wednesday to build the 300 new settler homes in Beit El, after MPs voted down a bill which would have saved five buildings in one of its neighborhoods from demolition.

The Knesset vote, which saw 69 MPs oppose the legalization bill against 22 in favor, effectively ended legislative efforts by the settler lobby and its right-wing supporters to avoid a court-mandated July 1 removal date.

But Netanyahu warned after the vote that he would not allow people to “use the legal system to harm the settlement movement,” and announced plans to add the 300 new homes to Beit El, which is near the West Bank city of Ramallah.

“Beit El will be expanded, the 30 families will remain in Beit El, and 300 new families will join them,” he said.

Toner said the United States had made its views about the move known to the Israelis, adding “it impedes progress on any kind of comprehensive settlement, and that’s ultimately what everyone here, most importantly both sides, both parties, want to see happen.

“Or at least that’s what they claim to want to see happen.”

U.N. urged to visit Palestinian territories

In related story, non-aligned countries on the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday threw their support behind calls for council envoys to visit the Palestinian territories to see the impact of Israel’s settlements.

Palestinian leaders first made the call for a U.N. visit in February, but the 15-member council has not answered. Diplomats said the United States leads opposition to such a trip while Israeli-Palestinian talks are frozen. Israel is also opposed.

Eight Security Council members are from the 110 nation Non-Aligned Movement.

An envoy from one of them, Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador Abdullah Haroon, said the group would “approach the Security council to respond favorably” to the Palestinian request for a visit.

He told reporters the council must not remain as “bystanders” in the Middle East deadlock.

Haroon said several council nations had responded “favorably” about a possible trip, and that more talks would be held with the United States.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been halted since September 2010. The Palestinian leadership has since stepped up complaints about Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

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