The newly approved bill is "inconsistent" with promises to ease tensions with the Palestinians, a senior State Department official has said
The US government has voiced major concerns after Israeli lawmakers passed a bill allowing for the construction of new settlements in the occupied West Bank, warning that the measure would facilitate the theft of Palestinian land.
The State Department's principal deputy spokesman, Vedant Patel, said Washington is "extremely troubled" by the law, which rescinds parts of a 2005 bill that ordered Israeli settlers to vacate Gaza and some areas of the West Bank.
"The US strongly urges Israel to refrain from allowing the return of settlers to the area covered by the legislation," he told reporters on Tuesday, noting that "At least one of the [former] outposts in this area... was built on private Palestinian land, which is illegal under Israeli law."
Calling the legal change "particularly provocative" and "counterproductive," Patel said the creation of new settlements would pose "an obstacle to peace" in the region, also arguing the decision marks a "clear contradiction" of Israel's repeated vows to deescalate hostilities with the Palestinians.
While the 2005 disengagement law ordered all settlers to leave Gaza, it banned settlements in just four West Bank communities: Homesh, Ganim, Kadim and Sa-Nur. The new measure applies only to those areas, though hundreds of thousands of Israelis continue to maintain scores of illegal outposts in the territory. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) must approve a military order before settlers are permitted to return to the designated areas, however.
The Knesset approved the partial repeal earlier on Tuesday in a 31-18 vote, with hard right and religious parties strongly backing the proposal. Patel, however, appeared to question the voting process, saying it is "all the more concerning that such a significant piece of legislation passed with just 31 'yes' votes out of an assembly of 120 members."
A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the bill is a "violation of the resolutions of international legitimacy," as well as a 2016 UN Security Council resolution which found that settlements have "no legal validity."
Israel "insists on defying international law and works to sabotage international efforts exerted to deescalate the situation and reduce tension," the spokesperson said, also urging Washington to put pressure on its ally and "force it to stop all unilateral measures that violate international law and all signed agreements."
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Earlier on Tuesday, the State Department called up Israel's envoy for a meeting, during which officials "conveyed US concern" over the law. While a department readout did not describe the meeting as a formal summons, "this was effectively the reason for the sit-down," according to a US official cited by the Times of Israel. The country's embassy in Washington declined to comment on the discussion.