The State Department said Tuesday it had raised with the Israeli government the approval of construction of 117 houses in the Ariel settlement in the heart of the West Bank (search).

Spokesman Sean McCormack provided no details, but he left little doubt that the administration was displeased.

"Our views on that issue are well-known," McCormack said. And they were expressed recently to the Israeli government, he said.

"We have had an ongoing discussion on this, as well as other issues, with Israel," McCormack said. "It's a close friend and I'm not going to get into the content of those diplomatic exchanges."

The long-held view of U.S. administrations is that an expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank could complicate negotiations with the Palestinians over the future of the territory.

Still, the presence of Israeli settlements in Sinai did not prevent a peace treaty in 1979 in which Israel gave all the territory to Egypt. Nor did Israeli settlements in Gaza (search) stop Israel from relinquishing the territory to the Palestinians.

However, the Palestinians and their supporters suspect Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) intends to hold onto much of the West Bank and is expanding settlements to tighten Israel's grip on the area.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Tuesday for a half-hour with Karen Abu Zayd, counsel-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (search), on the post-withdrawal situation in Gaza.

"They had a good meeting," McCormack said.