The US has expressed worry over Israel’s recent announcement of plans to construct 300 new settler residences in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem on Wednesday - a move that is likely to reignite tensions between native Palestinians and Jewish settlers.
Just hours after Israel’s announcement, US State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Washington was “deeply concerned” by the plans, saying "The United States continues to view settlements as illegitimate and we strongly oppose steps to advance construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem."
"Settlement expansion threatens the two-state solution and calls into question Israel's commitment to a negotiated resolution to the conflict," Toner added.
In a statement issued by Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday, the “immediate construction of 300 housing units” in the Beit El area was ordered alongside the granting of planning approval for another 504 settler homes in occupied areas of East Jerusalem.
Earlier in July, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also announced plans to “legalise” Jewish settlements in the West Bank through the formation of a new committee. Consequently, plans were then drawn up by the Israeli military to grant building permission for 1,065 settlement units in the West Bank.
According to a report released on July 23 by Israeli settlement watchdog group Peace Now, the plans include building permission for 541 new homes, the “legalisation” of 228 existing homes, and the approval of infrastructure for the construction of a further 296 homes.
The US criticism of Israel’s plans follows a statement issued by Germany on Tuesday which also slammed Israel’s decision to proceed with settlement construction, calling it a violation of international law.
"The construction of settlements in occupied territories violates international law. This also hinders efforts to revive the peace process and threatens the basis of a two-state solution," the German Foreign Ministry said.
"Precisely now both sides are urgently called to build trust and refrain from unilateral and provocative actions. We warn that such steps would hamper chances for the resumption of peace negotiations," the statement continued.
Approximately 400,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank in settlements that are largely condemned as being illegal by the international community, which sees settlement buildings as undermining international efforts to reach a two-state solution.
Two-state solution at risk
Prior to his re-election as prime minister in March, Netanyahu vowed to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state in what was seen as a last-ditch attempt to garner right-wing support ahead of elections.
In response to Netanyahu’s election campaign, both the EU and the US expressed concern over the Israeli stance on the two-state solution, with US President Obama warning that Washington will "re-assess" its policies on Israel.
The Obama administration had a history of strained ties with Netanyahu even before Israel’s March elections, with relations taking a turn for the worse when Netanyahu accepted a Republican invitation to speak to Congress two weeks before the Israeli election.
Democratic leaders criticised the move, calling it an insult to the presidency and a breach of protocol as President Obama’s permission was not sought before the invitation was extended.
The continuation of illegal Jewish settlement buildings in the West Bank and East Jerusalem - which both came under Israeli occupation following the Six-Day war in 1967 - often raises tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, and last year resulted in the breaking-off of peace talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.
Israel walked out of talks after the Palestinian Authority announced the formation of a joint government with Palestinian resistance group Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007. Hamas is deemed by Israel to be a “terrorist” organisation.
The collapse of talks led to a brief war between Israel and Hamas in the summer of 2014, which killed over 2,200 Palestinians - mostly civilians. Seventy two Israelis, mostly soldiers, were also killed.