The U.S. State Department criticized an Israeli announcement approving the construction of hundreds of housing units in four West Bank settlements.

We’re deeply concerned by the government’s announcement to advance plans for these settlement units in the West Bank,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday, in answer to a reporter’s question during a briefing, hours after reports of the approval. “Since the Quartet report came out, we have seen a very significant acceleration of Israeli settlement activity that runs directly counter to the conclusions of the report. So far this year, Israel has promoted plans for over 2,500 units, including over 700 units retroactively approved in the West Bank.”

The Mideast Quartet, made up of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the U.N., called on Israel in June to stop building in the settlements and on the Palestinians to halt incitement.

Kirby said that the State Department is “particularly troubled by the policy of retroactively approving unauthorized settlement units and outposts that are themselves illegal under Israeli law. These policies have effectively given the Israeli Government a green light for the pervasive advancement of settlement activity in a new and potentially unlimited way. This significant expansion of the settlement enterprise poses a very serious and growing threat to the viability of the two-state solution.”

“Potentially unlimited” is a recent term used by the State Department, and seems to indicate U.S. concerns that Israel wants to annex the West Bank.

The Civil Administration’s High Planning Committee on Wednesday approved construction of 234 living units in Elkana in the northern West Bank, designated to be a nursing home; 30 homes in Beit Arye in the northern West Bank; and 20 homes in the Jerusalem ring neighborhood of Givat Zeev.

The committee also retroactively legalized 179 housing units built in the 1980s in Ofarim, part of the Beit Arye municipality.

The approval comes less than a week after Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, criticised Israel for continuing to build in West Bank settlements and neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, going against the recommendations issued in June by the Mideast Quartet. (JTA)