The Obama administration on Friday blasted new comments by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in which he said critics of Israel’s communities in Yehudah and Shomron are advocating the “ethnic cleansing” of Jews.
Using unusually forceful language to criticize a long-standing ally, the State Department said it was protesting Netanyahu’s comments directly to his government. It was not clear if U.S. officials believe Netanyahu was referring to them in the comments.
The U.S. has long condemned Israel’s aggressive building of Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron.
Netanyahu said that just as there are nearly two million Arabs living in Israel, so should Palestinians tolerate Jews living in their midst.
“Yet the Palestinian leadership actually demands a Palestinian state with one precondition: no Jews,” Netanyahu said in a video he posted on social media. “There’s a phrase for that. It’s called ethnic cleansing.”
He added that he had “always been perplexed” that critics viewed Jewish construction in Yehudah and Shomron as an obstacle to peace.
Asked about Netanyahu’s video, State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau cited broad international consensus that regards the building of the Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron as an “obstacle to peace.”
“We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank,” Trudeau said. “We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful.”
She criticized what she called Israel’s “dramatic escalation” of the demolition of Palestinian homes and structures, leaving hundreds without shelter. Israel has also retroactively “legalized” unauthorized remote outposts and seized additional land in Yehudah and Shomron for exclusive Israeli use, she said.
“We have repeatedly expressed our strong concerns that trends on the ground continue to move in the opposite direction” of a two-state solution, Trudeau said. Israel’s actions “raise real questions about Israel’s long-term intentions in the West Bank.”
There has been speculation in Washington that President Barack Obama may instruct Secretary of State John F. Kerry to make one last attempt to field an Israeli-Palestinian accord before the administration leaves office. Russia, meanwhile, hoping to assert itself further on the world stage, has offered to host Israeli-Palestinian talks in the coming weeks.