U.S. ‘extremely troubled’ by Israeli plans to reestablish West Bank settlements
The Biden administration is warning Israeli officials against moving ahead with legal changes that would green light the reestablishment of settlements in the West Bank, a flashpoint with Palestinians that the U.S. warns will inflame violence during a heightened point of tensions.
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a lengthy statement Tuesday that the U.S. is “extremely troubled” over the advancement of legislation in the Israeli Knesset that rescinds parts of a nearly two-decade old law that prohibited Israeli communities to be built on specific territory in the West Bank.
Patel said the original intent of the law was aimed at advancing a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
“Nearly 20 years ago, [Israeli] Prime Minister Ariel Sharon affirmed in writing to [President] George W. Bush that it committed to evacuate these settlements and outposts in the northern West Bank in order to stabilize the situation and reduce friction,” Patel said.
“We have been clear that advancing settlements is an obstacle to peace and the advancement of a two-state solution. This certainly includes creating new settlement building, or legalizing outposts, or allowing building of any kind on private Palestinian land or deep in the West Bank adjacent to Palestinian communities, all would be facilitated by this legal change.”
The scolding from the State Department came in response to a vote in the Knesset early Tuesday morning to repeal parts of what is called the 2005 Disengagement Law, which ordered the evacuation of four Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank.
The law’s passage paves the way for Israelis to return to the areas and reestablish communities, the Times of Israel reported, although it still needs a sign-off from the head of Israel’s military command for the northern territory.
“The U.S. strongly urges Israel to refrain from allowing the return of settlers to the area covered by the legislation,” Patel said.
Passage of the legislation “represents a clear contradiction” of commitments made by the Israeli government to the U.S., Patel said, a reference to a joint communique signed in February. Israeli officials as part of the document agreed to stop the discussion of any new settlements for four months, and to stop authorization for any outposts — more informal settlements — for six months.
These commitments were reaffirmed during a joint meeting between the U.S., Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian officials during a meeting in Sharm Al Sheik, Egypt, as part of efforts by the Biden administration to deescalate a particularly explosive outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
“Coming at a time of heightened tensions, the legislative changes announced today are particularly provocative and counterproductive to restore some measures of calm as we head into Ramadan, Passover and the Easter holiday,” Vedant said.
Israeli security officials have often prepared for an increase in violent attacks that coincide with the holiday period. It has warned of attacks during that period recently.
The anger from the State Department comes amid heightened concern from President Biden that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is failing to reign in the most extreme elements of his governing coalition, who are pushing through judicial changes in the face of unprecedented opposition.
Critics say the so-called judicial reforms have far-reaching implications on the rights of minorities in the country and on worsening the conflict with the Palestinians.
Biden spoke with Netanyahu on Sunday raising concern about the judicial reforms in Israel and efforts by the U.S. to help mediate between Israeli and Palestinian officials to tamp down an increase in violence in the region.
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