US 'dismayed' with Israel settlement move, dubs UN vote 'unhelpful'

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By Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States voiced deep dismay at Israel's decision to expand Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory but on Thursday also described as "unhelpful" a push for the UN Security Council to denounce the move.

In a rebuke of Israel - suggesting President Joe Biden was prepared to take a harder line in dealing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - the White House said settlement activity "creates facts on the ground" that undermine hopes for peace between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

"The United States strongly opposes these unilateral measures which exacerbate tensions, harm trust between the parties and undermine the geographic viability of the two-state solution," said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Netanyahu's government on Sunday authorized nine Jewish settler outposts in the occupied West Bank and announced mass construction of new homes in established settlements.

Most world powers consider Israel's settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem illegal. Israel disputes that and cites biblical, historical and political links to the West Bank, as well as security interests.

The United Nations Security Council is considering a draft resolution, seen by Reuters on Wednesday, that would demand Israel "immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory."

The 15-member council is likely to vote on Monday on the text, drafted by the United Arab Emirates in coordination with the Palestinians, diplomats said.

"Steps like settlement activity, steps like the introduction of such a resolution, are unhelpful and put us further away from a negotiated two-state solution," deputy State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters on Thursday.

He said the United States was working with partners at the United Nations in New York on "next steps."

In December 2016 the Security Council demanded Israel stop building the settlements. It adopted a resolution after U.S. President Barack Obama's administration abstained, a reversal of its practice to protect Israel from UN action.

When asked on Thursday if the United States could again abstain, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said: "I have nothing for you on that."

Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem - areas the Palestinians want for a state - in a 1967 war. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but, along with neighboring Egypt, controls the enclave's borders.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Steve Holland and Simon Lewis, writing by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chris Reese and Howard Goller)