Israel's prime minister on Tuesday vowed to never uproot any West Bank settlement — just days after a White House envoy was in the region trying to restart peace talks with the Palestinians
Benjamin Netanyahu's comments enraged the Palestinians and raised new questions about the slow start for U.S. peace efforts led by White House adviser Jared Kushner.
Netanyahu spoke at a ceremony Monday night in Barkan, a settlement in the northern occupied West Bank.
"We have returned here for good," Netanyahu said. "There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the Land of Israel. Settlements will not be uprooted."
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, along with annexed east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for an independent state alongside Israel. Israel captured all three areas in the 1967 Mideast war, though it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
The Palestinians say that settlements on occupied lands are illegal and undermine the goal of a two-state solution by gobbling up land — a position that is widely backed by the international community.
But since his election, President Donald Trump has broken with the policies of his predecessors and refused to endorse the two-state solution. In turn, Netanyahu has also taken a harder line and no longer speaks of establishing a Palestinian state.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned Israeli settlement construction and said the international community remains solidly behind the goal of Palestinian independence.
"I express very strongly the total commitment of the United Nations and my personal total commitment to the two-state solution," Guterres said at a meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
He added that settlement activity is illegal under international law, calling it an "obstacle" that needs to be removed.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, denounced Netanyahu's comments and urged the U.S. to intervene.
"This is an Israeli message to the U.S. administration, which sought through an important tour in the area to do something in order to rescue the peace process," he said. "We call upon the U.S. administration to deal with these provocations," which he said hinder U.S. peace efforts and are "an attempt to return things to square one."
The Palestinians have expressed impatience with the White House, which has not yet offered a plan for forging peace despite Trump's early pledges to pursue what he calls "the ultimate deal."
Kushner and his envoy, Jason Greenblatt, have held a series of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as well as with leaders across the Arab world in an attempt to take a regional approach toward solving the decades-old conflict.
A senior White House official played down Netanyahu's comments.
"It is no secret what each side's position is on this issue," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. "Our focus is on continuing our conversations with both parties and regional leaders to work toward facilitating a deal that factors in all substantive issues.