British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg rebuked Israel for its settlement policies, warning that continued settlement construction undermines the Middle East peace process. Clegg, speaking alongside Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, yesterday in London, warned Israel that:
The continued existence of illegal settlements risks making facts on the ground such that a two-state solution becomes unviable. And that in turn will do absolutely nothing, nothing to safeguard the security of Israel itself and of Israeli citizens. […] It’s an act of deliberate vandalism to the basic premise upon which negotiations have taken place for years and years and years.
Clegg’s boss, British Prime Minister David Cameron echoed his deputy’s comments after a meeting with Abbas yesterday, saying:
We think that time, in some ways, is running out for the two-state solution unless we can push forward now, because otherwise the facts on the ground will make it more and more difficult, which is why the settlement issue remains so important.
Indeed, the Obama administration also supports a settlement freeze but ended efforts to pressure the Israelis to do so just over a year ago. The White House and State Department criticize Israeli settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority refuses to return to formal peace talks until Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s imposes a freeze on settlement construction. But Netanyahu maintains that Abbas’ request for a halt to settlement construction is an example of Palestinians “thinking they [can] impose preconditions upon us,” before resuming formal negotiations. West Bank settlements have grown dramatically over the past decade. Between 1999 and 2010, settler populations in the West Bank nearly doubled, ballooning from 177,411 to 314,132.