Israel defies Biden administration on Jewish settlement expansion, faces no consequences per usual

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  June 21, 2023

The Biden administration criticized an Israeli announcement of 4,000 new illegal Jewish settlement units in the West Bank but appears to have no plans for taking action.

Israel’s right-wing government has approved a major expansion of its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, a move that has merely generated strong rhetoric from the Biden administration.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has bestowed control of the expansion project to ultranationalist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. Smotrich made international headlines earlier this year when he called for a Palestinian village to be “erased.”

“The United States is deeply troubled by the Israeli government’s reported decision to advance planning for over 4,000 settlement units in the West Bank. We are similarly concerned by reports of changes to Israel’s system of settlement administration that expedite the planning and approvals of settlements,” reads a statement put out by State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

 “As has been longstanding policy, the United States opposes such unilateral actions that make a two-state solution more difficult to achieve and are an obstacle to peace. We call on the Government of Israel to fulfill the commitments it made in Aqaba, Jordan and Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt and return to dialogue aimed at de-escalation,” it continues.

Despite these words, the Biden administration has not indicated it will take any action on the matter.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf is in Israel this week where she’s scheduled to discuss the Iran deal and expansion of the Abraham Accords, but her plans have not been altered by the announcement in any way. When asked what the administration had said to Israeli officials during a State Department briefing Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel refused to get into specifics. “We continue to robustly engage with our partners in Israel,” said Patel. “Assistant Secretary Leaf is in the region engaging with the parties on efforts to restore calm.”

At another point in the briefing Al-Quds reporter Said Arikat asked Patel about the U.S. government empowering the occupation through the vast amount of military aid it supplies to Israel. “I take issue with that characterization,” replied Patel. “We have been very clear about noting violence, noting terrorism, condemning it when it happens.”

In March the Israeli Knesset approved legislation to reinstitute four illegal settlements that were dismantled as part of a 2005 agreement. The move was also criticized by the Biden administration at the time with Patel calling the law “particularly provocative and counterproductive.”

The Netanyahu government has granted approval for more than 7,000 Jewish settlement homes since taking power at the beginning of 2023. Over 700,000 Jewish settlers now live in the illegally-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The United States government gives Israel more than $3.8 billion in military aid annually. While running for president, Joe Biden referred to the idea of conditioning aid to Israel as a “gigantic mistake” and “absolutely outrageous.”

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss