The White House and State Department have condemned Israel’s decision to go ahead with its settlement expansion plan in the West Bank Village of Nabi Saleh, Palestine. The US believes that the move could potentially setback the efforts to bring peace in the region.
While both US and Israel opposed Thursday's vote by the UN declaring Palestine a “state,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said that the US continues to back its opposition to the settlements and the ongoing construction in the disputed region.
Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the State Department, reinforced this position, saying, "We're going to be evenhanded in our concern about any actions that are provocative, any actions that make it harder to get these two parties back to the table."
The Palestinians have been protesting since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu announced his plan to build thousands of homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
"We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve of a two-state solution," Vietor said. "Direct negotiations remain our goal and we encourage all parties to take steps to make that easier to achieve."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the UN vote should give everybody a pause and warned Israel that its decision to authorize construction could setback the cause of a negotiated peace.
"We all need to work together to find a path forward in negotiations that can deliver on the goal of a two-state solution. That remains our goal,” Clinton said. "If and when the parties are ready to enter into direct negotiations to solve the conflict, President (Barack) Obama will be a full partner to them."
While Natanyahu insists that the UN vote granting Palestine the status of statehood is “meaningless,” Palestine can now take part in UN debates and join bodies like the International Criminal Court to present its case. Nearly 500,000 Jews are currently living in more than 100 settlements built since the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. These settlements are considered illegal by international law, but Israel disputes this.
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas said that he is open to all sorts of peace negotiations, but insisted that the current settlement program is serving as a roadblock.
"I've said a thousand times that we want to resume negotiations and we are ready to do it," Abbas told reporters in New York. "We are not setting any condition but there are at least 15 UN resolutions which consider settlement activity as illegal and an obstacle to peace which must be removed," he said. "Why do (the Israelis) not stop settlement?"