White House Attacks Israel Over West Bank Settlements


israeli-settlementsThe Obama administration attacked Israel yetserday for giving the green light to the building of hundreds of new homes in the occupied West Bank even as the two sides negotiate a freeze on settlement construction. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is set to approve the new homes in the coming days, a move that appears aimed at softening opposition within his Likud party to a temporary settlement freeze.

An official close to Netanyahu who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue said the PM would consider freezing building “for a few months” only after giving the green light to the construction of the new units for Jewish residents.

“We regret the reports of Israel’s plans to approve additional settlement construction,” said Robert Gibbs, White House spokesman. “The US does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion and we urge that it stop. We are working to create a climate in which negotiations can take place, and such actions make it harder to create such a climate.”

George Mitchell, the Middle East envoy for President Barack Obama, is due in Israel next week to continue the settlements negotiations, which Washington hopes will facilitate a resumption of stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.

The Obama administration has indicated it could sign up to less than the complete freeze on new building that it has demanded. “In a negotiation, people always stake out a variety of positions,” a state department spokesman said on Thursday. “Will that be the final position? Who knows?”

The Israeli official said the new expansion would be in addition to some 2,500 units already being built in the West Bank. None of the new homes will be in East Yerushalayim, which Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.

According to the Israeli official, a suspension of construction would be authorised only if the “conditions are right”, including if Arab countries made efforts to normalise ties with the Jewish state.

The US has sought to persuade Arab states to make gestures to Israel, such as allowing it to open local trade offices and organising meetings between Israeli and Arab officials.

Netanyahu is under pressure from members of his own party and from rightwing allies in his governing coalition to resist the call for a settlement freeze.

Israeli media have suggested Mitchell and Netanyahu could announce an agreement next week ahead of a possible summit between Netanyahu, Obama and PA President Mahmoud Abbas during the United Nations General Assembly late this month.

However, Palestinians have so far resisted taking part in such a meeting, insisting that only a total freeze on construction would prompt the resumption of peace talks.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, an aide to Abbas, was quoted by Reuters as saying that “a partial settlement freeze is not enough.”

{The Financial Times/Matzav.com Newscenter}