In response to Israel’s recent announcement declaring nearly 1,000 acres of land in the West Bank “state land” with the intention of expanding settlements in the Etzion bloc, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki issued the following statement:
We are deeply concerned about the declaration of a large area as ‘state land’ to be used for expanded settlement building. We have long made clear our opposition to continued settlement activity. We call on the Government of Israel to reverse this decision.
During a press briefing on Tuesday, Psaki was asked whether the US was planning any consequences if Israel fails to heed the US’s call to reverse its decision. Here’s the exchange:
QUESTION: [Y]ou said that if the appropriation in the West Bank and if these rumored or reported new announcements go ahead, it would send a very troubling message – it would send a very troubling message if they proceed.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is there any consequence to that —
MS. PSAKI: Well —
QUESTION: — if they proceed?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any consequences to lay out for you, Matt. I think it’s important for us – not just the United States but there are a range of countries in the international community that have been clear about not only their opposition but their own intentions. I’m not going to speak to those. I speak for the United States.
The issue came up again during Wednesday’s press briefing:
MS. PSAKI: I think there’s no secret about our position and our view on the legitimacy of settlements.
QUESTION: No, no. But I mean specific – but specifically, do you know —
MS. PSAKI: That’s not what I was saying. I think – let’s – I think we all know what the United States position is on settlements.
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m not —
MS. PSAKI: It would not be a surprise to any Israeli government about what our view would be. So my point is that it’s not – that’s not a new – I don’t think our concern about this was —
QUESTION: Okay. But what might be a surprise to the Israeli Government is if you did something about it, other than just say you’re opposed to it and you should change your mind. I mean, is there – so if you don’t see results or a reversal in the immediate term, or the intermediate – or intermediate term, or even the long term, what happens?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, I’m not here to project that. I think it’s – we have an important relationship with Israel.
QUESTION: I’m not doubting that.
MS. PSAKI: We certainly express our concerns when we have them. There are a range of countries that have expressed their concerns about these type of activities. Obviously we feel it’s not just in the United States interest, it’s in Israel’s interest to take steps that would be conducive to being able, at some point, to move toward a two-state solution.
MS. PSAKI: And this makes it challenging for the other side.
So Psaki’s response to whether the US would actually do something if Israel doesn’t reverse their decision is “we have an important relationship with Israel.” Which—yeah, that’s about right.
These revelation shouldn’t be at all surprising, since almost every announcement Israel has made about new settlement expansion has been met by tepid US condemnation backed by little substantive action. US officials can’t even bring themselves to call the settlements illegal, instead referring to them as “illegitimate” or “unhelpful”—the latter a term the US also applied to the tent cities Palestinians set up to protest Israeli land grabs back in early 2013.
J Street, which has tried to set itself up as an alternative Jewish lobby to DC mainstays such as AIPAC, has, at times, had trouble supporting political pressure on Israel. In response to the new settlement announcement, however, J Street is calling on the Obama administration “to make clear to Israel that it means what it says and that US opposition to settlements is not just symbolic but real.” They are calling on the US “to announce the steps it will take if Israel goes forward with this decision” and to join the rest of the international community in calling Israeli settlements what they are: illegal.