Netanyahu tries to ease US concerns after harsh settlement condemnation

Netanyahu's statements were in response to a harsh condemnation the US issued after plans to build hundreds of residential units in the settlement Shvut Rachel were announced earlier this week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry (photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with US Secretary of State John Kerry
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to mend fences with Washington in the aftermath of a harsh public dispute over Israeli plans to build 98 homes in the Shiloh settlement.
According to a senior diplomatic source, Netanyahu held a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday evening, in which he explained that plans for the homes had been advanced to provide an option for families in the Amona outpost, whose homes are slated for demolition by December 25.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu clarified for Kerry that the construction [in Shiloh] was to provide an alternative for the Amona residents if no other solution is found,” the source said.
Netanyahu has held seven meetings on Amona in the last few weeks with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and other relevant officials.
The 40 families that live in the Amona outpost have rejected the Shiloh plan, and have called for the government to authorize their small hilltop community in spite of the High Court of Justice ruling that their homes must be razed.
Likud and Bayit Yehudi politicians have sided with the Amona families, with many of them calling for Netanyahu to support legislation that would authorize 2,000 illegal settler homes in Judea and Samaria, including Amona.
In the interim, plans have moved ahead for the Shiloh option, with the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria last week advancing plans for a neighborhood in that settlement.
The overall project calls for 300 homes.
The White House and the State Department both issued unusually harsh condemnation of the plan, which they said was akin to the creation of a settlement.
The European Union also condemned the Shiloh project on Friday, saying that “continued settlement expansion also calls into question Israel’s commitment towards reaching a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians.
“This decision continues the accelerating trend of new settlement announcements since the start of 2016, and risks further separating Ramallah from Nablus and thus further undermining the contiguity of a future Palestinian state,” the EU said.
“The decision to continue settlement building and expansion goes directly against the recommendations of the Quartet Report, weakens rather than strengthens the prospects for a two-state solution to the Middle East peace process, and makes the possibility of a viable Palestinian state more remote,” it added.
The New York Times ran an editorial on Thursday attacking Israel for the Shiloh project.
In an unusual move, the paper called on the United Nations Security Council to set the parameters for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
“The best idea under discussion now would be to have the United Nations Security Council, in an official resolution, lay down guidelines for a peace agreement, covering such issues as Israel’s security, the future of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and borders for both states,” the paper’s editorial board said.
The paper’s editorial, published on Thursday, called on US President Barack Obama to lead the charge at the council.
“The most plausible pressure would come from Mr. Obama’s leading the Security Council to put its authority behind a resolution to support a two-state solution and offer the outlines of what that could be.
“That may seem like a bureaucratic response unlikely to change anything, but it is the kind of political pressure Mr.
Netanyahu abhors and has been working assiduously to prevent,” the Times wrote.
The editorial was issued one week before the United Nations Security Council is due to hold a public debate on October 14, known as an Arria Formula meeting, on Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and Jewish building in east Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Authority asked the Security Council to hold the meeting in the hopes that it would spur the UN to pass a resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity.
The informal meeting, which will take place at the UN headquarters in New York on Friday, is titled “Illegal Israeli Settlements: Obstacles to Peace and the Two-State Solution.”
It was officially convened at the request of Angola, Malaysia, Venezuela, Senegal and Egypt through the Arria Formula, which allows member states of the UN to hold debates under the auspices of the Security Council that otherwise might not be held by the 15-member states.
A similar meeting was held in May on the question of international protection for Palestinians.
Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said that by initiating the meeting, the Palestinian were committing “diplomatic terrorism” against the communities of Judea and Samaria.
“The Palestinians are attempting to use the international community to harm Israel, instead of putting an end to the hateful incitement and returning to the negotiating table.
“[It] will not improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians, and it should be summarily dismissed by the international community,” he said. “Only a complete end to Palestinian terrorism and violence can lead to a real dialogue between our peoples.”
According to the Israeli Mission to the UN, the meeting will likely focus on construction in eastern Jerusalem, the retroactive legalization of existing communities in Judea and Samaria and “land confiscations.”
A paper attributed to the Palestinians was leaked to a number of media outlets, including The Jerusalem Post, in which the concept and talking points for the meeting were described.
“The international community needs to move beyond verbal condemnation of the settlements and expressions of concern about the diminishing viability of the two-state solution,” the paper said.
“In particular, the UN Security Council must shoulder its responsibility under the UN Charter to maintain international peace and security, and enforce its own resolutions relating to the illegal settlements,” it continued.
Aside from pushing the council on the issue of West Bank settlements, the Palestinians would like to see it issue a resolution, such as the one described in the Times editorial.
The United States and Israel have opposed any Security Council efforts to dictate the terms of a two-state solution, preferring instead a directly negotiated agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
With an eye to the changing US administration in January, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already met with both American presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, to urge them to oppose such unilateral moves at the UN.
On Wednesday, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner reiterated the Obama administration’s long standing position to oppose biased and one-sided UN resolutions against Israel.
“With regard to the UN Security Council and any action at the UN, our position hasn’t changed. We’re always concerned, frankly, about one-sided resolutions or other actions that could be taken within the UN, and we’re always going to oppose those kinds of resolutions that we believe delegitimize Israel and undermine its security,” Toner said.
As one of five countries on the Security Council with veto power, the US has blocked Palestinian- led attempts by that body to issue condemnations or resolutions against Israel, particularly with regard to the settlements.
But there is speculation that US President Barack Obama might change his position with regard to the council and Israel in the two months that remain after the November election, and before he leaves office in January.
During Wednesday’s press briefing, Toner hinted that the US position on this matter could change. “We’re going to carefully consider our future engagement, if and when we reach that point, and determine how to most effectively pursue and advance the objective that we all at least claim to share, which is that of achieving a negotiated two-state solution,” Toner said.
The Palestinians have insisted that settlement activity is the obstacle to the creation of a two-state solution. The PA has refused to hold direct talks with Israel until such time as Israel halts settlement activity in the West Bank and building in east Jerusalem.
Israel has repeatedly called on the Palestinians to hold talks without preconditions. Israel has said that the Palestinian refusal to negotiate is the stumbling block to the peace process.
The last formal negotiating process, which was led by the US, fell apart in April 2014.