JERUSALEM — A new Jewish settlement plan for part of the West Bank drew condemnation Monday from the U.S., the United Kingdom and others as Israel moves forward with a program it says is needed to protect its interests.
“I deplore Israel’s latest moves regarding settlements and am seriously concerned that this action may undermine our attempts to resume direct peace talks,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
“The United States opposes any expansion of Israeli settlements, including in East Jerusalem, where no peace negotiations have taken place, and there is no partner for peace. We will continue to urge the parties to take steps that will advance peace and stability in the region,” he said.
Britain’s Foreign Office said Monday that the building plans “cannot be justified on security grounds” and would “make a serious impact on a shared future between Palestinians and Israelis.”
“We’re alarmed by these new plans,” said Alistair Burt, a British Foreign Office minister.
The European Union condemned the announcement, calling it “incompatible with” Israel’s obligations under international law.
“The EU has always strongly opposed settlement activity, which is illegal under international law,” said an EU statement. “Israel must fully comply with its international obligations in order to enable the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and to restore trust.”
The European Union has said it opposes the construction of new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem because they are illegal and threaten to isolate Israel internationally. They have also become a political problem for the Israeli government, as the EU and Israel are the main donors to the Palestinian Authority. Israel sees the settlements as an existential threat.
The Israeli government moved ahead with the construction plans on Sunday, saying it must build 1,400 homes in three of the settlements in an area known as E1, southeast of Jerusalem. E1 is one of the last major Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank, and its construction would sever any viable Palestinian state from east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in 1967.
Its construction “would effectively sever the West Bank from Jerusalem and from Jordan,” Pompeo said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office described the announcement as an interim step.
“The construction of housing units, primarily in the E1 area, is meant to provide security and border protection to communities in the region,” a statement said. “This is an interim measure, and no final decision on the relocation of settlements will be made until after the agreement on Jerusalem is reached.”
The U.S. was “engaged on this issue when some of the same parties that made the announcement are on the road to negotiating a genuine and lasting peace,” a statement from the office of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said.
It was not immediately clear when the plans might be built.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, urged Israel “to strictly abide by its legal obligations, including by fully transferring tax revenues paid by Israel to the Palestinian Authority.”
Burt, the British foreign minister, said Israel must “immediately clarify its position” and said a “broadening” of settlement activity could provoke new unrest.
“The EU has always been concerned about the growing settlements in the West Bank,” he said. “This threat to an already compromised two-state solution is unacceptable.”
The United Nations said Monday it was “gravely concerned” about the announcement.
U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said it was “the latest setback” to peace efforts, and called for the “continued unity” of the Palestinian Authority.
“Judaization of East Jerusalem and incitement to violence” were sources of “increasing frustration and anger” among Palestinians, Feltman said.