Demands to freeze settlement activity have not helped the peace process, a White House official said on Tuesday, in response to reports that Israel could advance plans for thousands of new settler homes next week.
“President Trump has publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements, and the administration has made clear that unrestrained settlement activity does not advance the prospect for peace,” a White House official told The Jerusalem Post.
“At the same time, the administration recognizes that past demands for a settlement freeze have not helped advance peace talks.”
The official spoke with the paper after Israeli officials said that the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria would meet next week to advance plans for 3,736 settler homes.
“The Israeli government has made clear that it has been adopting a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the president’s concerns into consideration,” the official said.
“As you know, we are focused on a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians that will resolve core issues between the parties.”
Many in the international community, as well as the Palestinians and the former Obama administration, spoke of the settlement issue as the stumbling block to the peace process.
But the White House official emphasized that it was not helpful to isolate one issue as the source of the problem.
“We are viewing the matter holistically and seeking a complete solution, rather than dealing with issues in isolation,” the official said.
Israel has long held that settlement building should not impact the peace process, noting that negotiations were held in the past while settlement building continued.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been under pressure from Likud politicians, the Bayit Yehudi Party and settler leaders to increase building in West Bank settlements in the aftermath of the Obama years.
They charged that the latest announcement with regard to settlement activity did not begin to make up for the many years of limited construction.
In particular they noted the absence of approvals for new roads and industrial parks. Settler sources said that Netanyahu was under pressure from the Trump administration to constrain settlement activity. One source noted that the US knew as much about the projects as the Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria did.
Settler leaders have been particularly concerned that Netanyahu is overdramatizing the actual number of projects in which construction can occur.
The Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria said that only 700 new homes would receive final approval next week, and another 2,000 would be advanced.
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, who is a member of the Likud central committee and an ardent supporter of US President Donald Trump, has had particularly harsh things to say about Netanyahu’s settlement policy.
Netanyahu has continued to clamp down on settlement building, just as he did during the Obama administration, Dagan charged.
“Unfortunately, Netanyahu is missing a historic opportunity here,” Dagan said.
Trump might not like the settlement building, but he won’t condemn it like Obama did, Dagan said.
Israeli officials said in response: “There is no one who has done more in a wise and determined manner for the settlements than Netanyahu.”
To date, plans for 5,000 settler homes have been advanced and tenders have been issued for 3,000 homes.
After the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria meets, the number of home plans that will have been advanced this year will rise to almost 12,000, Israeli officials said.
That is four times the number of home plans that were considered in 2016, the officials said. This includes projects for settlements that have not seen new homes in many years. Among the projects on the list are new housing for the Jewish community in Hebron, permanent homes for the evacuees from the Migron outpost and 300 homes in the Beit El settlement.
“Those who claim that this is not a significant improvement mislead the public,” the officials said.
The council’s meeting comes as Trump is working to advance a new peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israeli officials said that Netanyahu must pay attention to the diplomatic situation.
“Those who think it is possible to ignore diplomatic considerations are also mistaken,” the officials said.
The Palestinians condemned Israeli plans to build homes in settlements.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said, “Clearly, Israel is bent on entrenching the military occupation and its illegal settlement enterprise, further reaffirming its intentions of displacing Palestine and replacing it with ‘Greater Israel.’” According to the Palestinian news agency Wafa, she spoke against the construction on Monday during a meeting with Norwegian Representative Hilde Haraldstad in Ramallah.
“Rather than becoming party to Israel’s unlawful breach of international law and conventions, the global community should hold Israel accountable for acting outside the law before it destroys the prospects of a viable Palestinian state, peace and stability indefinitely,” she said, according to Wafa.