US speaks to Israel over its approval of 147 new settler homes and plans for 949 more

State Department ahead of peace talks: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity."

Shiloh settlement in West Bank 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Shiloh settlement in West Bank 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The United States has called Israel over its approval of 147 new West Bank settler homes and its decision to advance plans for 949 other units just one week after direct peace negotiations resumed in Washington.
The second round of talks is to be held in Jerusalem on August 14, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed on Thursday at a press briefing in Washington.
She added that special envoy Martin Indyk and his deputy, Frank Lowenstein, would travel to the region to help facilitate the talks.
Another meeting is expected to be held in Jericho, Psaki said, but she did not provide any further details with regard to those talks. On Tuesday, in advance of Wednesday’s peace talks, Israel is expected to approve the release of 26 of the 104 Palestinian prisoners that are to be freed during the coming nine months.
She chastised Israel for its continued West Bank settlement activity.
“We are speaking to the government of Israel and making our concerns known,” Psaki said. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity and opposes any efforts to legitimize settlement outposts.”
She added, “The secretary has made clear that he believes both the negotiating teams are at the table in good faith and are committed to making progress.”
She clarified that the US had spoken locally to Israel over the decisions taken Wednesday by the Higher Planning Council with regard to West Bank settlement activity.
The Prime Minister’s Office had no comment on the matter.
An Israeli official stressed that the bulk of the council’s actions involved preliminary administrative decisions. Another decision would have to be taken before any building could occur on those projects, the official said.
The Palestinians reacted harshly to Wednesday’s actions of the Higher Planning Council of Judea and Samaria.
“The reality on the ground says that Israel is deliberately destroying the two-state solution and killing any sort of hope,” said PLO Executive Committee member in charge of culture and information Dr. Hanan Ashrawi.
She accused Israel of trying to sabotage the talks and of attempting to annex the West Bank.
“It is evident that in absence of a clear international response, our duty is to protect our land and our people with the rightful tools of international legitimacy we have gained through statehood.
We should hold Israel accountable using international instruments and venues,” she said.
The protocols of the meeting, including the council’s decisions, had yet to be published as of press time.
Still, news of the council’s actions were first publicized on the Ha’aretz web site on Thursday.
Peace Now followed with a report based on its own reading of the agenda and information from Ha’aretz.
A security official confirmed that 95 new units had been approved in the Shiloh settlement, located 27 km. away from the pre-1967 lines in the Binyamin region. Another 52 were approved for the Betar Illit settlement located on the pre- 1967 lines in the Gush Etzion region, he said.
But he added he could not give any more details in advance of the publication of the protocols from the meeting. Still, he said, the numbers publicized by Ha’aretz were largely true.
According to Peace Now, which based its report partly on the council’s agenda and partly on Ha’aretz, the council agreed to deposit plans for 949 new homes, of which 569 were for the Talmon settlement 10 km. away from the pre-1967 lines.
In addition, the council agreed to deposit plans for 38 homes for the Kochav Ya’acov, 7.7 km. away from the Green Line and 234 for Gilgal, located 30 km. distant from the Green Line.
It agreed to deposit plans for 31 homes for Almog located 20 km. away from the pre-1967 lines and and 60 for Alon Shvut located 4.6 km. away from the pre-1967 lines.
The Palestinians have insisted that Israel must halt all West Bank settlement activity and Jewish building in east Jerusalem. Israel has refused to cede to that request.
It was expected that Israel would continue settlement activity while the talks were ongoing.