The White House has called on Israel to end its “50-year occupation” of the West Bank and East al-Quds (Jerusalem), criticizing Tel Aviv over its continued settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.
In a speech to an American Jewish advocacy group in Washington on Monday, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said, "An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state."
“Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely, that's the truth,” McDonough said at the final event of J Street’s 2015 conference, a three-day gathering of American Jewish students, activists and lobbyists.
“Palestinian children deserve the same right to be free in their own land as Israeli children in their land,” he said. “A two-state solution will finally bring Israelis the security and normalcy to which they are entitled, and Palestinians the sovereignty and dignity they deserve.”
In a war in 1967, Israel captured the West Bank and East al-Quds. Since then, Tel Aviv has continued to expand its illegal settlements there. The issue has become a major obstacle for the efforts to establish peace in the Middle East.
The UN and most countries regard the Israeli settlements as illegal. The settlements are subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbids construction on occupied lands.
In his speech, McDonough also condemned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his dismissal of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.
“The United States will never stop working for a two-state solution and a lasting peace that Israelis and Palestinians so richly deserve,” he said.
He said Netanyahu’s rejection of a Palestine state as well as his approval of illegal settlements in the occupied territories for the strategic purpose of changing the borders are “so very troubling”.
He censured Israel for its settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, warning that it “would only contribute to Israel’s further isolation.”
On Tuesday, Netanyahu clinched a divisive victory in national elections. His rightwing Likud party won 30 of the 120 seats in parliament, against 24 for rivals in the center-left Zionist Union.
Netanyahu made opposition to nuclear negotiations with Iran a centerpiece of his reelection campaign. He also rejected the idea of a Palestinian state, which has been a key element of US foreign policy.
McDonough said, “America’s commitment to a two state solution is fundamental to US foreign policy.”
“We will look to the next Israeli government to match words with action and to policies that demonstrates a commitment to a two state solution,” McDonough said.
"In the end, we know what a peace agreement should look like. The borders of Israel and an independent Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps," he stated.
Palestinians are seeking to create an independent state on the territories of the West Bank, East al-Quds, and the Gaza Strip and are demanding Israel to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian territories.
Tel Aviv, however, has refused to return to the 1967 borders and is unwilling to discuss the issue of al-Quds.
More than half a million Israelis live in over 120 illegal settlements built since the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds in 1967.