The United States has condemned Israel’s decision to expand a settlement bloc in the occupied West Bank, saying it hampers efforts to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.
“Continued settlement activity and expansion raises honest questions about Israel’s long-term intentions and will only make achieving a two state solution much more difficult,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby said Friday.
In December, Israel’s ministry of military affairs added a compound in the West Bank to the jurisdiction of the Gush Etzion regional council, a grouping of 20 settlements with a population of more than 20,000.
The plan will stretch Israel’s illegal settlements to the proximity of a volatile Palestinian refugee camp, raising the prospect of more clashes.
“The closeness to the camp will lead to direct friction with residents of the camp. There will be more martyrs, more prisoners and more wounded,” said Osama Jawabra, a member of the residents’ committee of al-Aroub refugee camp.
On Thursday night, Israeli troopers shot and killed a young Palestinian woman after she allegedly tried to stab soldiers at a checkpoint in the West Bank village of Beit Einun, five kilometers northeast of al-Khalil (Hebron).
The report came only hours after Israeli forces fatally shot three Palestinian youths over an “attempted stabbing attack” on a group of Israeli soldiers at the Gush Etzion Junction.
Kirby said that the United States remains “deeply concerned” about the Israeli move, “which effectively creates a new settlement on 10 acres in the West Bank.”
Washington has been clear about its position on Israeli settlement activity, Kirby said. It is “illegitimate and counter-productive to the cause of peace,” he added.
The United Nations and most countries regard the Israeli settlements as illegal because the territories were captured by Israel in a war in 1967 and are hence subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbids construction on occupied lands.
The continued expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine has created a major obstacle for the efforts to establish peace in the Middle East.
More than half a million Israelis live in over 120 illegal settlement colonies built since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds.
The Palestinian Authority wants the West Bank as part of its future independent state, with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital.