Israel violated its commitments to the United States by repealing portions of the Disengagement Law as they apply to northern Samaria, US State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vendat Patel said in a harshly worded statement.
The move is “particularly provocative and counter-productive to efforts to restore some measure of calm as we head into Ramadan, Passover and Easter,” he told reporters in Washington on Tuesday.
US President Joe Biden voiced his opposition to the repeal when he spoke this week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Patel said. US officials also raised the matter this week when they met with Israelis at a summit in Sharm el-Sheikh and at Aqaba last month, he added.
“These are topics and issues that we raised directly with our Israeli counterparts,” Patel said.
He spoke after the Knesset voted 31-18 in the predawn hours to lift its ban on the entry of Israelis to the sites of four settlements Israel evacuated in 2005, a move that is expected to pave the way for their reconstruction.
He noted that former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon had promised then-US president George Bush in 2004 that he would evacuate 21 settlements in Gaza and four in northern Samaria.
The repeal, Patel said, is a “clear contradiction of undertakings the Israeli government made to the US nearly 20 years ago” that were “affirmed in writing.”
The summit in Sharm el-Sheikh
The Knesset’s move is also “inconsistent with Israel’s recent commitment to de-escalating Israeli-Palestinian tensions” that it made at the quintet summit in Sharm el-Sheikh on Sunday, Patel said. He referred to the meeting between officials from the Palestinian Authority, Israel, the US, Jordan and Egypt.
At that meeting, Patel said, Israel recommitted to stopping discussion of any new settlements for four months and to stopping authorizations of outposts for six months, he said.
“It is all the more concerning that such a significant piece of legislation was passed with just 31 ‘yes’ votes out of an assembly of 120 members.”
He noted in particular that Homesh, one of the evacuated northern Samaria settlements, had been constructed on private Palestinian property.
“The US strongly urges Israel to refrain from allowing the return of settlers to the area covered by the legislation consistent with both former PM Sharon and the current Israeli government’s commitment to the US. We have been clear that advancing settlements is an obstacle to peace and achievement of a two-state solution,” Patel said.
The European Union said that the repeal pushed back the possibility of a renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
That law “and its articles concerning the northern West Bank, was an important step towards a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the EU said as it described the wave of hope the plan had generated in the international community close to 18 years ago.
“The decision of the Knesset is a clear step back,” it added.
“The EU considers settlements as illegal under international law. They constitute a major obstacle to peace and threaten the viability of the two-state solution,” it explained.
The EU noted that just after pleading to help ensure calm at Sharm el-Sheikh, the Knesset took a step that it believes “is counter-productive to de-escalation efforts, and hampers the possibility to pursue confidence-building measures and create a political horizon for dialogue.”
The United Kingdom also stated its concern that the new law reduced the possibility of a two-state resolution to the conflict. Its embassy in Israel spoke out as Foreign Minister Eli Cohen made his first visit to London since taking office and met with his British counterpart, James Cleverly.
The spokesperson for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on the international community to pressure Israel to halt all of its unilateral measures, such as the Disengagement repeal.
Omri Nahmias contributed to this report.