In its first demonstrative step in reaction to the Hamas-Fatah unity government, Israel is poised to immediately approve construction of some 3,000 new units beyond the Green Line.
The units, which were originally to be approved with release of a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners at the end of March that was never carried out, will include 400 units in Ramat Shlomo in Jerusalem, and another 1,100 to be divided between the settlements of Efrat, Beitar Ilit, Adam and Givat Ze’ev. In addition, another 1,500 will be approved for construction in other settlements throughout the West Bank.
The other three prisoner releases that were part of the US-brokered agreement that led to Palestinian-Israeli talks from July to March were accompanied by Israeli announcements of new construction beyond the Green Line.
The announcement of further construction comes amid a serious policy disagreement with the US over its approach to the new Palestinian unity government. US Secretary of State John Kerry pledged continued allegiance on Wednesday to strong security ties with Israel, even as he reiterated the US would engage the new government backed by Hamas.
Speaking at a press conference in Beirut, Kerry – asked why the US felt it had to “recognize the unity Palestinian government immediately” – stressed that Washington does not recognize a “government with respect to Palestine, because that would recognize a state, and there is not a state.”
Kerry said he has had daily conversations with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on this matter as “a friend, as well as the prime minister of the country.” He stressed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas assured him “this new technocratic government is committed to the principles of nonviolence, negotiations, recognizing the State of Israel, acceptance of the previous agreements and the Quartet principles, and that they will continue their previously agreed upon security cooperation with Israel.”
Kerry said Abbas has formed an “interim technocratic government that does not include any ministers who are affiliated with Hamas,” and that Washington has looked into the identity of each of the ministers and determined they are indeed not affiliated with the organization. As a result, he said, “we will work with it as we need to, as is appropriate.”
He said the US will work with the government in the same way Israel is “obviously working with it for security purposes. It has transferred revenues. There are certain day-to-day needs.”
Kerry promised Washington would conduct a “day-to-day” evaluation of the government and “calibrate our approach accordingly.” The US, he said, would be watching the government “very closely, as we have said from day one, to absolutely ensure that it upholds each of those things it has talked about, that it doesn’t cross the line.”
The secretary of state reiterated the US position that Hamas is a terrorist organization, which has not accepted the Quartet principles and continues to call for the destruction of Israel, “even as it moves into this new posture.”
“Israel is our friend, our strong ally” Kerry said, adding that the US-Israeli security relationship has never been as strong as it is now under President Barack Obama.
“We are deeply committed. We’ve said again and again the bonds of our relationship extend way beyond security,” he said. “They are time-honored and as close, I think, as any country in the world. We will stand by Israel, as we have in the past. There is nothing that is changing our security relationship. That is ironclad.”
Be that as it may, Israel did nothing to hide its deep disappointment with the US policy, with Netanyahu saying Tuesday he was “deeply troubled by the announcement that Washington will work with the Palestinian government backed by Hamas.
Saying Hamas is a “brutal terrorist organization,” Netanyahu pointed out it has murdered “countless innocent civilians, including Americans.”
”I think the United States must make it absolutely clear to the Palestinian president that its pact with Hamas, a terrorist organization that seeks Israel’s liquidation, is simply unacceptable,” he said.
Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, also made clear Israel’s displeasure, even drawing a distinction – rarely made in public by senior Israeli officials – between the administration’s position toward an issue impacting Israel, and that of Congress.
Key members of Congress from both parties have come out firmly against the Palestinian unity government, threatening to discontinue US aid to the PA as a result.
“What we were hoping to hear was a strong message opposing President Abbas’s decision to form a government with an unreformed terror organization,” Dermer said in an interview on Tuesday with NPR.
“Instead, it sounded more like business as usual. And that’s why we were very disappointed. I must say that we did hear a strong message of opposition from both sides of the aisle in Congress. And we do deeply appreciate that.”
Dermer said the world’s governments that consider Hamas a terrorist organization – including the US, the countries of the European Union, Australia, Japan, Canada and Egypt – “should send a very clear signal to Abbas that forming an alliance with a terror organization that has not changed at all is a big mistake.”