Israel agreed to curb West Bank settlement construction in advance of the separate meetings US President Donald Trump plans to hold in Washington this week with the Jordanian and Egyptian heads of state.
Trump will meet in the White House with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday and with King Abdullah II of Jordan on Wednesday.
In February, Trump and King Abdullah spoke briefly at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.
“We are going to be discussing the general outlines of our approach with the Middle East peace process and provide information as to the context of what we’ve been doing over the last few weeks to advance the process,” a senior administration official told reporters on Friday.
The official added that the issue of West Bank settlements was not expected to be a focal point of the discussions.
“The discussion about the settlements is not one that we want to address at this time. My office is deeply involved in that effort and working with both the Israelis and the Palestinians on that issue. But we do not anticipate that becoming a focal point for any discussions over the next week,” the official said.
The US has not issued a formal response to two critical decisions Israel’s security cabinet took late Thursday night and early Friday morning. It approved the first completely new West Bank settlement in 25 years to replace the demolished Amona outpost, agreeing to publish tenders for some 2,000 homes in existing settler blocs and reclassify as state land 97.7 hectares near the settlement of Eli.
At the same time, the security cabinet said it would limit future building – where possible – to the built-up areas within existing settlements.
This will be done in an effort to limit the “footprint” of the settlements.
It said that construction would be as close as possible to the built-up areas. In addition, the cabinet clarified that no new outpost would be built.
A senior Trump administration official told The Jerusalem Post
on Thursday that the US accepts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rationale for approving one exception, a new settlement for the evacuees of Amona, which he promised its 40 families in December, prior to Trump’s inauguration.
But the European Union, the United Kingdom, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, France and the United Nations all condemned the declarations of settlement activity, the EU calling it illegal and saying it undermines the prospects for a viable two-state solution.
It called “on Israel to end all settlement activity and to dismantle the outposts erected since March 2001 in line with prior obligations.”
Regarding the new settlement- building restrictions, it added, “We expect declarations of intent to be followed by actions on the ground.”
In a brief 75-word statement, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s office said he “took notice with disappointment and alarm” of Israel’s decision “to build a new settlement in the occupied Palestinian territory.”
“The secretary-general has consistently stressed that there is no Plan B for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace and security.
He condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-state solution,” the statement read.
UN chief alarmed by Israel's approval of new settlement (credit: REUTERS)
“Settlement activities are illegal under international law and present an obstacle to peace.”
Palestinian Authority spokesman Yousif Mahmoud told Wafa, the official Palestinian Authority news agency: “With these actions Israel has shown that it aims to reinforce the odious Israeli occupation.”
PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said, “Israel continues to destroy the prospects of peace in our region and to severely affect our lives by the theft of land and natural resources, and by the further fragmentation of our country. Israel enjoys a culture of impunity that allows it to strengthen its apartheid regime in occupied Palestine.”
He added that the Palestinians would not accept any Israeli and American formula that would allow for any continued settlement building.
For the last seven years, the Palestinians have demanded that Israel freeze all settlement activity, including building in east Jerusalem, as a precondition to diplomatic talks.
That demand was set aside during the nine-month US-led peace process that fell apart in April 2014, during which Israel released Palestinian prisoners in exchange for settlement building.
The US has long criticized settlement construction, saying their expansion takes over more land from a future Palestinian state, an argument that Jerusalem believes does not apply since all construction is taking place within the existing builtup areas of the settlements.
The new settlement approved Thursday night, however, will be located in the heart of the West Bank near the Shiloh settlement, which is 27 kilometers past the 1949 armistice line.
“All Israeli settlements are illegal and we are not going to accept any formula that aims at legitimizing the presence of Israeli colonies on occupied Palestinian land,” Erekat said.
“Israel’s colonial project violates international law and also previous Israeli commitments both under signed agreements and to the United States.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to meet with Trump at the end of this month or in early May. Netanyahu met with Trump in February.
The Jerusalem Post
reported last week that the Trump administration hopes to hold a summit this summer among Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Gulf states.Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.