US warns Israel on 'unrestrained' settlement building
The United States has warned that "unrestrained" building of settler homes could hinder peace, after Israel approved a new settlement in the occupied West Bank for the first time in a quarter century.
The Palestinians reacted angrily as what is widely seen as the most right-wing government in Israeli history presses ahead with settlement expansion in defiance of international concern.
US President Donald Trump's administration refrained from criticising the new settlement, which was approved by the Israeli security cabinet late Thursday, but warned on Friday that further expansion could undermine peace efforts.
|Read also: Trump's administration and Israeli Apartheid will bankrupt UN morality|
"While the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace," a White House official said.
"Going forward... the Israeli government has made clear that Israel's intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes President Trump's concerns into consideration."
A spokesman for UN chief Antonio Guterres expressed "disappointment and alarm" at the Israeli announcement.
"The secretary general has consistently stressed that there is no Plan B for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace and security. He condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-state solution," Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Israel "continues to destroy the prospects of peace."
He also criticised the UN, European Union and United States for not doing enough to punish Israel for continuing to expand settlements in the West Bank.
"Peace is not going to be achieved by tolerating such crimes," he said.
More than 400,000 Israelis live in existing settlements considered illegal under international law.
|Read also: Israeli settlement activity increased by 40% in 2016|
The new settlement will be constructed north of the former wildcat Jewish outpost known as Amona, which was razed in February in accordance with an Israeli High Court order.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had promised to build a new settlement for its residents after their eviction.
"I promised to create a new community and we are going to respect that commitment and create it today," he said ahead of Thursday's security cabinet meeting.
Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy for the umbrella body representing settlers, welcomed the decision.
"We will be monitoring the government very closely to see that these plans come to fruition, enabling a new era of building," he said in a statement.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel also welcomed the announcement, saying it would allow the "development of Judaea and Samaria," using a term right-wing Israelis apply to the West Bank.
It will be the first entirely new settlement that an Israeli government has approved since 1991, the anti-settlement NGO Peace Now said.
In recent years, construction had focused instead on expanding existing settlements.
Peace Now said the new settlement's location deep in the West Bank was "strategic for the fragmentation of the West Bank," which Palestinians see as the bulk of their future state.
"Netanyahu is held captive by the settlers, and chooses his political survival over the interest of the state of Israel," the NGO said, adding it was pushing Israelis and Palestinians closer to "apartheid."
The international community regards all Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as illegal and a major obstacle to Middle East peace.