The White House accused Israel of a betrayal of trust Wednesday, in an unusually sharp rebuke over its plans to build hundreds of new settlement homes deep in the West Bank.
Days after President Barack Obama approved a $38 billion Israeli military aid package and attended former President Shimon Peres’ funeral in Jerusalem, the White House railed at the construction of 300 housing units on land “far closer to Jordan than Israel.”
Warning that the decision jeopardizes the already distant prospect of Middle East peace as well as Israel’s own security, press secretary Josh Earnest said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s word had been called into question.
“We did receive public assurances from the Israeli government that contradict this announcement,” he said.
“I guess when we’re talking about how good friends treat each another, that’s a source of serious concern as well.”
The sharper-than-normal comments come as the White House weighs a last-ditch effort to get the peace process back on its feet before Obama leaves office in January.
While serious talks seem unlikely, US officials are weighing the possibility of a major speech outlining the parameters for peace.
Peace efforts have been comatose since a US-led initiative collapsed in April 2014.
In a similarly strong-worded statement, the State Department said building the units “is another step toward cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation.”
The plan not only undermines hopes for peace with the Palestinians but “is fundamentally inconsistent with Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state,” spokesman Mark Toner said.
US officials have adopted a more forceful tone with Netanyahu’s government in recent weeks, accusing it of recklessly accelerating construction despite international concern.
But the practice has only accelerated since then, Washington says, with new housing blocks being approved, local administrative boundaries moved and unauthorized outposts retroactively approved.
The 300 units the White House was referring to would constitute a new settlement in the heart of the West Bank, roughly halfway between the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Nablus, according to settlement watchdog Peace Now.