US summons Israeli envoy, Netanyahu says 'we won’t rebuild settlements'

Deputy Secretary of State Sherman met with Herzog at the State Department and conveyed the US's concern about the repeal of the 2005 Disengagement Law.

 Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog speaks at the Museum of the Bible. (photo credit: SHMULIK ALMANI)
Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog speaks at the Museum of the Bible.
(photo credit: SHMULIK ALMANI)

Israel won’t rebuild the four northern Samaria settlements that were destroyed during the 2005 Disengagement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the United States summoned the country’s Ambassador Mike Herzog to the State Department to express its outrage over such a possibility.

The summons was a rare move of displeasure from Washington which is Israel’s most significant ally.

Netanyahu attempted to calm the diplomatically troubled waters Wednesday pledging that the “government has no intention of establishing new settlements in these areas."

He made no reference to the illegally constructed Homesh yeshiva at the site, which the coalition has already promised to authorize.

The Biden administration has accused Israel of violating two promises it made to the US. It spoke out just hours after the Knesset voted in the pre-dawn hours on Tuesday, to lift its ban on the entry of Israelis to the sites of the four evacuated settlements.

 Israel's settlers and right-wing activists gather at the abandoned Jewish settlement of Homesh, northern West Bank, June 12, 2007. (credit: YONATHAN WEITZMAN / REUTERS) Israel's settlers and right-wing activists gather at the abandoned Jewish settlement of Homesh, northern West Bank, June 12, 2007. (credit: YONATHAN WEITZMAN / REUTERS)

It’s the first step necessary toward rebuilding those communities. Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan has already begun to do the preparation work for such a step. Many of the preparatory moves would actually need only the approval of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. Bureaucratic work could move forward for a long time before it ever went to the government for approval.

Netanyahu pushed back at US frustration over the vote, explaining that it was the correct decision.

It “brings to an end to a discriminatory and humiliating law that barred Jews from living in areas in northern Samaria, part of our historic homeland. It is no coincidence that senior figures in the opposition have supported this law over the years.”

At the State Department on Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman convened to Herzog the US “concern regarding legislation passed by the Israeli Knesset rescinding important aspects of the 2005 Disengagement Law, including the prohibition on establishing settlements in the northern West Bank.” 

“They also discussed the importance of all parties refraining from actions or rhetoric that could further inflame tensions leading into the Ramadan, Passover, and Easter holidays,” the State Department said.

Proponents of the repeal have argued that the withdrawal has only led to increased terror against Israel, with Hamas taking over Gaza to use as a launching pad for rockets and with West Bank terror cells strengthening their presence in northern Samaria. They believe the repeal will improve security not harm it.

The US views the repeal as a direct violation of the letters of understanding passed between former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former US president George Bush in 2004.

Israeli reactions

Opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid accused Netanyahu of destroying Israel's relationship with the US.

His government "managed to eliminate Washington's support. They are doing the things that we all always knew should not be done and if Netanyahu was not so weak he would not have let them do it either."

Likud MK Dan Illouz disagreed. “We have no problem clarifying to the United States in every conversation in which we are invited that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people."

“They are welcome to invite us to clarify this at any time. We are available and happy to do so,” he added.

Former IDF chief of staff MK Gadi Eisenkot (National Unity) who opposed the Knesset vote, said "The last summoning of an Israeli ambassador for clarification was many, many years ago, as far as I know.

He told Radio 103FM. "This indicates the magnitude of the government's violation as perceived by the Americans."

"We again see weakness by the government and decisions that are a political conjecture, resulting in damage to Israel's national interests. I hope this hasty decision doesn't result in blood. It will take a very long time to rebuild and restore the damage to the relations and trust between Israel and the US," Eisenkot added.

The US-Israel tensions come on top of the Biden administration's objections to Israel’s judicial overhaul plan, which it fears will weaken Israeli democracy. It has yet to issue an invitation for Netanyahu to visit Washington. Such a trip typically occurs when a new prime minster enters office.

The US in the past had downplayed the absence of an invite. It has been noted that Netanyahu who has already served for 15 years, already had a history with Washington and had a strong relationship with US President Joe Biden who he has known since the 1980s. 

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who is a former foreign minister, said there has never been a situation where new prime ministers have not been invited to the White House within the first three months of their tenure. He noted that the United Arab Emirates had not invited Netanyahu either.

“We have never been so split domestically and so isolated internationally,” he said.