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US 'concerned and perplexed' by Israel's West Bank policy

Jan. 19, 2016 6:50 P.M. (Updated: March 19, 2016 4:32 P.M.)
File photo of US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro. (US Embassy in Tel Aviv)
By: Killian Redden

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said Monday the US was "concerned and perplexed" by Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territory in a nearly unprecedented condemnation of Israeli policy.

Speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies' annual conference in Tel Aviv, Shapiro warned that Israeli policies were undermining "the viability of a two-state solution."

He pointed in particular to state support for illegal settlements, Israeli land use in the West Bank's Area C, and a legal double standard for Palestinians and Israelis.

"As one of Israel’s closest friends, and as the longtime sponsor of peace efforts, we feel a unique responsibility to draw attention to these issues," the ambassador said.

"We are concerned and perplexed by Israel’s strategy on settlements," he said, noting that the creation of two states would "become more and more difficult if Israel plans to continue to expand the footprint of settlements."

Shapiro expressed amazement that settlers outposts were being legalized "despite earlier pledges to the United States not to do so" and that "administrative demolition of Palestinian structures continues."

He said: "The question we ask is a simple one: what is Israel’s strategy?"

Shapiro also said that Israel's use of land in the occupied West Bank "raised important questions that must be confronted."

He said that "nearly all of Area C, which compromises 60 percent of the West Bank, is effectively restricted for any Palestinian development," while "huge tracts of land are claimed by Israel as 'state' lands, or have been transferred into the projected boundaries of settlement councils."

Shapiro also called on Israel to "develop stronger, more credible responses to questions about the rule of law in the West Bank."

He praised the Israeli authorities for convicting Jewish extremists responsible for a deadly attack in the village of Duma last summer, but said that "too many attacks on Palestinians lack a vigorous investigation or response by Israeli authorities."

He added: "At times there seem to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians."

Reiterating comments made by US Secretary of State John Kerry in December, Shapiro said that "hovering over all of these questions is the larger one about Israel's political strategy vis-a-vis its conflict with the Palestinians.

"What is Israel's plan for resolving the conflict? For remaining a Jewish and democratic state? And if it judges a political solution to be out of reach for the time being, then what is its plan for managing and stabilizing the conflict in the short and medium term?"

He said the US understood there were "no easy answers," but added that "the passage of time will not make any of these hard questions easier to answer."

He reiterated US condemnations of Palestinian acts of violence in recent months and said that US security ties with Israel had "never been stronger," citing in particular $3 billion worth of military aid the US is set to provide Israel with later this year.

In December, John Kerry issued a striking condemnation of key Israeli policies -- including control over Area C, settlement activity, and home demolitions -- warning that they were "imperiling" the viability of a two-state solution by pushing the PA toward collapse.

While Kerry acknowledged that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had stated his commitment to a two-state solution, he said it was "important that that not become a slogan, not become a throwaway phrase -- that it becomes a policy."

With a note of exasperation, he asked: "If there is a risk the the PA could collapse, and it is in Israel's interests for it to in fact survive, should more therefore not be done to help sustain it?"

There are more than 500,000 Israelis living in illegal settlements across occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, making an independent and contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

While US leadership has repeatedly condemned Israeli settlement expansion, such condemnations have historically done little to curb their growth.
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