US criticizes Israeli settlement plans but offers no action

Israel US Mideast
Posted at 4:28 PM, Feb 13, 2023

JERUSALEM (AP) — The U.S. on Monday criticized new Israeli plans to build thousands of new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, but gave no indication it would take any action against its close Middle Eastern ally.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office announced the plans late Sunday, saying they were in response to recent deadly Palestinian violence.

It said Israel would legalize nine settlement outposts that were built without authorization and convene a special planning committee in the coming days to approve additional settlement construction.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a hard-line settler whose responsibilities also include authority over settlement construction, said some 10,000 housing units were set to be approved. Netanyahu's new government is dominated by Israeli ultranationalists who support settlement construction and oppose Palestinian independence.

The United States opposes settlement construction on occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians. Over 700,000 Jewish Israelis now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories captured in the 1967 Mideast war and sought by the Palestinians for their future state.

In Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. was "deeply troubled" by the Israeli decision. "We strongly oppose such unilateral measures, which exacerbate tensions and undermind the prospects for a negotiated two-state solution."

But Blinken gave no indication that the Biden administration is prepared to take action. Israel has shrugged off similar statements of concern in the past.