Palestinian leaders issue mixed responses to White House settlements statement

“Israeli colonial settlement construction is destroying the peace process, undermining the two two-state option, and amounts to a war crime.”

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat (photo credit: REUTERS)
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian leaders over the weekend expressed a variety of opinions on the White House’s statement on settlement construction.
Muhammad Shtayyeh, a top Palestinian Authority official, reservedly welcomed the White House’s statements on Saturday, saying in a Facebook post that it is “a small step in the right direction.”
The White House said in a press release on Thursday that new settlement construction could undermine the peace process. “While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said.
Shtayyeh, who is also a Fatah Central Committee member, added that the Palestinian leadership would like to see the Trump administration take “a clear position on the two-state solution and settlements.”
Meanwhile, other top PA leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his senior aide Saeb Erekat, have refrained from commenting on the White House’s statement.
Erekat blasted settlement construction in a meeting with diplomats in Jericho on Friday, but made no reference to the White House’s statement. “Israeli colonial settlement construction is destroying the peace process, undermining the two two-state option and amounts to a war crime,” Erekat remarked.
He also called on the international community to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which says that settlements “have no legal validity.”
Hamas slammed the White House’s statement, saying that it provides Israel with protection to build settlements. “The White House’s statement, that views settlement construction as not representing the real problem, provides cover for Israeli settlement construction on Palestinian land,” Hazem Qassim, a Hamas spokesman, said in a press release on Saturday night.
Hamas leaders have made relatively few statements about the Trump administration since President Donald Trump took office on January 20.
Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that the White House statement was “too weak.”
“I do not think it is appropriate to say that settlements generally are not an obstacle to peace, and that some expansion could be an obstacle to peace,” said Barghouti, who is also the chairman of the Palestinian National Initiative. He added that he believes the statement represents “some sort of a departure from the classical position of previous American administrations.”
Previous US administrations have consistently held critical positions of settlement construction.
Nonetheless, Barghouti said he thinks the White House statement in and of itself shows that Trump is uneasy about settlement construction.
“I think the fact that the spokesperson had to say something about settlements reflects a certain uneasiness that [the] administration has started to feel about settlement building,” Barghouti said. “It decided that it could no longer be silent.”
In the past ten days, Israel made a series of announcements pertaining to the authorization of plans to construct settlement housing units. Israel announced the authorization of 2,500 units on January 24 and 3,000 additional units on January 31.