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US State Department: Israeli settlements entrenching region in 'perpetual occupation and conflict'

July 28, 2016 9:04 P.M. (Updated: July 31, 2016 5:49 P.M.)
Rear Admiral John Kirby during a media briefing on Oct. 15, 2014 at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. (AFP/Alex Wong, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The US Department of State released a statement Wednesday slamming Israel’s continued settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, while expressing concern over the recent increase of demolitions on Palestinian homes that have left dozens of Palestinians homeless this week.

State Department Spokesman John Kirby said in the statement that the United States was “deeply concerned” by reports of the Israeli government opening tenders for 323 additional units in several Israeli settlements in the West Bank and expressed the United States' disapproval of plans to build an additional 770 units in the Israeli settlement of Gilo which was announced Monday.

In the statement, Kirby said that the actions of the Israeli government aimed at fast-tracking the resettlement of Israeli citizens onto Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory, and appeared to represent a “steady acceleration of settlement activity that is systematically undermining the prospects for a two-state solution.”

The statement also underscored the government’s concern over several other Israeli settlement expansion plans announced in previous weeks, including plans to construct 531 units in Maale Adumim, 19 in Har Homa, 120 in Ramot, 30 in Pisgat Zeev, in addition to plans to retroactively legalize an Israeli settler outpost near Ramallah while issuing tenders for 42 additional units in Kiryat Arba, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank district of Hebron infamous for its extremist residents.

The recent escalation of Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes lacking hard-to-obtain Israeli-issued building permits was also mentioned in the statement, as Kirby underscored the government’s worry over dozens of Palestinians, including children, being made homeless as a result of their homes being destroyed by Israeli forces.

The spokesperson was referring to demolition raids that were carried out on an unprecedented scale this week in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya and Ras al-Amoud, and in the village of Qalandiya in the West Bank district of Jerusalem, resulting in at least 30 Palestinian families losing their homes.

Kirby also referenced a recent report released by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which revealed that more Palestinian homes have been demolished in the first six months of 2016 than in all of 2015.

Kirby did not comment in the statement on Israel’s punitive demolition of Palestinian homes following attacks on Israeli civilians or military personnel, a policy which has left dozens of Palestinian families homeless, and labeled as a form of “collective punishment” by various rights groups aimed at disrupting life for the families of Palestinian attackers.

“This is part of an ongoing process of land seizures, settlement expansion, legalizations of outposts, and denial of Palestinian development that risk entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict,” the statement continued.

“We remain troubled that Israel continues this pattern of provocative and counterproductive action, which raises serious questions about Israel's ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”

recent report released by the Middle East Quartet -- the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations -- cited Israel’s expansion of illegal settlements as one of the major impediments to a viable two-state solution.

However, the Israeli government approved plans for settlement expansions just two days after the report’s release, sparking international outcry over the Israeli government's disregard for international law and seeming indifference to renewed international peace efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While the Israeli government does not make Israeli settler population statistics public, most rights groups estimate that some 500,000 to 600,000 settlers reside in Israeli settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem -- all of which are considered illegal under international law.

Meanwhile, a total of 664 Palestinian-owned structures have been demolished by Israeli forces since the start of this year, resulting in the displacement of 981 Palestinians, according to UN documentation.

However, the UN’s data only included the number of demolitions as of July 25, and had not yet incorporated the recent mass demolition campaigns that took place in the succeeding days in East Jerusalem and Qalandiya.

Kirby’s statement has joined a long line of other nations, international organizations, and rights groups, including the European Union and United Nations, that have condemned Israel’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, which have escalated to a concerning level over the past several months.
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