The US rebuked Israel on Monday for its decision, following Friday night’s Itamar murders, to approve between 400 and 500 new housing units in the large settlement blocs, saying that “continued Israeli settlements are illegitimate and run counter to efforts to resume negotiations.”
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“The US is deeply concerned by continuing Israeli actions in respect to settlements in the West Bank,” said a statement issued by the State Department.
The statement added that continued settlement construction harmed efforts to start talks, and that “through good faith direct negotiations, the parties should mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties.”
According to the statement, “the lack of resolution of this conflict harms Israel, harms the Palestinians and harms the interests of the US and the international community. We will continue to press ahead with the parties to resolve the core issues in the context of a peace agreement.”
The decision to build the units was made Saturday night in reaction to the murders of five members of the Fogel family the night before. Israeli officials said that the US had been informed of the decision before it was announced Sunday morning.
One diplomatic official said in response to the US statement that “the American position is well known.”
Last month, the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning all settlements as illegal, saying that while it agreed settlements were illegitimate, the resolution harmed chances for peace talks.
Unlike the EU, which consistently states as a point of fact that the settlements are “illegal,” the US is careful not to use that characterization, calling them instead “illegitimate.”
The Americans, meanwhile, were not the only ones to take the Netanyahu government to task for the construction announcement – though their reasons were starkly different.
Danny Dayan, the head of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, said during a meeting with three Likud ministers Monday that he rejected any linkage between the slaughter in Itamar and the decision to build another few hundred units in the settlement blocs.
“The whole approach that a threemonth- old baby needs to be slaughtered for the prime minister to announce that he is approving construction, is unfathomable,” Dayan said.
He added that on Saturday night, Netanyahu should have forced Defense Minister Ehud Barak to sign off on the approval of a new neighborhood in Itamar.
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, one of the Likud ministers at the meeting, made reference to reports that Netanyahu was planning to lay out a new diplomatic plan during a speech to the US Congress in May, saying that “the prime minister should say what he wants to say here in Israel and in Hebrew, and not in the US in English. When it is said here, we can weigh it seriously.”
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said that because of Friday night’s murders in Itamar, the whole idea of a new diplomatic plan and a major policy address had, at least temporarily, been pushed aside, “with everyone shocked and preoccupied with Itamar and its implications.”
The officials would not say whether the latest attack changed Netanyahu’s mind regarding elements of the plan that his aides have said he is working on. One of the ideas that he was reportedly considering was transferring additional parts of the West Bank to complete Palestinian Authority control, so the PA would be in charge of some 90-95 percent of the Palestinian population.
Netanyahu, the official said, had always stressed that security was the foundation upon which everything else rested. The official would not say if, or how, the Itamar attack had changed Netanyahu’s perception of the steps toward the PA that it was possible for Israel to take now.
The diplomatic process with the Palestinians was one of the topics Netanyahu discussed Monday in a meeting with Dimitris Christofias, the communist president of Cyprus – the first Cypriot president to visit Israel in over a decade.
The two also discussed recent developments in the region, Iran and
threats to regional security. While Netanyahu briefed Christofias on the
diplomatic process, the Cypriot president briefed Netanyahu on the
situation in Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus.
When asked if the two men had discussed Turkey, one government official
would only say that they had discussed “joint areas of concern.”
Israel’s relations with Cyprus have improved significantly since
Jerusalem’s relations Ankara began deteriorating. The same phenomenon is
true regarding Israel’s relations with Greece.
Another topic the two men discussed, said government officials, was the
possibility that natural gas discovered at the Leviathan gas field would
be pumped to Cyprus, and from there to Greece and other countries in
Europe. The two leaders decided to set up a team to discuss this option.
Among other bilateral issues raised was the massive increase in Israeli
tourism to Cyprus – a runoff from the dramatic drop in Israelis visiting
Turkey. According to government figures, in 2010 there was a 21 percent
rise in Israelis travelling to Cyprus.
Netanyahu said during the meeting that the “two countries have common interests and have to reach new levels of cooperation.”