"We oppose unilateral actions that make a return to bilateral negotiations harder," White House spokesman Jay Carney said during a news briefing Monday. "We oppose, as we long have, Israeli settlement activity and construction in East Jerusalem, because they are counterproductive to what we believe is the goal here and should be the goal, which is Israel and Palestinian states side by side, living in security and freedom."
A State Department statement said: "The United States opposes all unilateral actions, including West Bank settlement activity and housing construction in East Jerusalem, as they complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations, and risk prejudging the outcome of those negotiations. This includes building in the E-1 area as this area is particularly sensitive and construction there would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution."
The British and French foreign ministries summoned Israel's ambassadors to those two countries to voice disapproval of Israeli plans to build new settlements in the West Bank.
The Israeli authorization of the construction of 3,000 residential units in East Jerusalem and across a section of the West Bank known as E1, between Jerusalem and the settlement town of Maale Adumin, effectively cuts the proposed nation of Palestine in two and complicates a two-state solution, the BBC said Monday.
Israel was told that its construction activity in the West Bank "is contrary to U.S. policy," the State Department statement said.
"The United States and the international community expect all parties to play a constructive role in efforts to achieve peace," the statement said. "We urge the parties to cease unilateral actions and take concrete steps to return to direct negotiations so all the issues can be discussed and the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security can be realized."
Carney referred questions about whether the administration was notified to the State Department.
"I don't have information to give you," Carney said, adding later, "I don't think we could be clearer about our position that we oppose, unilateral actions that make the return to bilateral negotiations harder."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed "grave concern and disappointment" with Israel's decision, the United Nations said in a release.
"This would include reported planning in the so-called E-1 envelope, which risks completely cutting off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank," a representative for Ban said in a statement.
"Settlements are illegal under international law and," the representative said. "Should the E-1 settlement be constructed, it would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution."
The construction is Israel's response to a U.N. General Assembly vote last week granting permanent observer status to the Palestinian Authority, approved in the U.N. vote by Israel's European allies but opposed by the United States. Britain abstained from voting. The step-up in Palestinian prestige was described by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as an "attack on Zionism and the state of Israel."
While rhetoric was expected, the announcement of the construction plan was something of a diplomatic bombshell, the BBC said, noting the new settlements inhibit a contiguous Palestinian state and divides it from what Palestinians consider their future capital, Jerusalem.
The development of the E1 had been frozen for years under pressure from the United States and the European Union, the British newspaper The Guardian reported Monday, adding the construction plan is seen as a "game-changer" by Western diplomats.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt met the Israeli ambassador in London Monday to voice his displeasure over the settlement plan.
Britain and France are poised to recall their Israeli envoys to protest the Israeli decision to add settlements, Haaretz reported.
"This time it won't just be a condemnation, there will be real action taken against Israel," a senior European diplomat told the Israeli newspaper.