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White House: Israeli settlement plan 'counterproductive'

Nov. 30, 2012 8:38 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 2, 2012 4:59 P.M.)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The White House said Friday a new Israeli settlement expansion plan was "counterproductive" and could make it harder to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

"We reiterate our longstanding opposition to settlements and East Jerusalem construction and announcements," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

Israel plans to build thousands of new homes for its settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, an Israeli official said earlier, defying a UN vote that implicitly recognized Palestinian statehood there.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's conservative government had authorized the construction of 3,000 housing units.

"We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it arder 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."

Daniel Levy, a former Israeli negotiator and now senior fellow and director for Middle East and North Africa at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the move amounts to an endorsement of a one-state solution and the result of a weak US stance.

"Yesterday at the United Nations the Palestinian leadership endorsed a two-state outcome. Today in its settlement decision on the E-1 corridor, the Israeli Government endorsed a one-state outcome. Israel's American sponsors might want to inquire as to whether the one-state outcome Israel's leaders have in mind is democratic or "apartheidist" in its orientation."

He added: "Obama began his first term by calling for a full settlement freeze. The consensus in Washington is that this was a mistaken move by the new President. It was not. The mistakes began when Obama blinked first, refused to apply the huge leverage at America's disposal, and never got the freeze.

"He has been stared down by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu ever since. If President Obama is not up to trying again, this time with muscle, then the conversation to start having with Israel's leader should be about democracy rather than separation."

Ma'an staff in Bethlehem contributed reporting.
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