US strongly opposed to settlement advancement, Blinken tells Bennett

The conversation comes amid sharp policy disagreements between the two longstanding allies on Iran and West Bank settlements.

 The site of the Atarot project, next to the security barrier and the apartments of Kafr Akab. (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
The site of the Atarot project, next to the security barrier and the apartments of Kafr Akab.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

The United States “strongly emphasized” its objection to Israeli settlement advancement in a conversation Secretary of State Antony Blinken had with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday.

Blinken “strongly emphasized that Israel and the Palestinian Authority should refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, including advancing settlement activity,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in describing Thursday’s conversation.

The two men also discussed Iran, the Omicron variant, the Iron Dome system and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The conversation was held amid sharp policy disagreements between the two longstanding allies on Iran and West Bank settlements.

At issue in particular is a project for 9,000 new homes that is slated to be built on the site of the former Kalandia Airport in Atarot, which was last in operation in 2000.

 The new 9,000 homes project in Atarot (credit: ARCHITECT YUVAL KADMON) The new 9,000 homes project in Atarot (credit: ARCHITECT YUVAL KADMON)

According to Israeli officials, Jerusalem told the US last week that it would not advance the project scheduled for debate in the Interior Ministry’s District Planning Committee on Monday.

The Atarot project was temporarily removed from the schedule, but then put back. One official said that Israel had told the US that the project would go through the planning committee process, but would not move forward to the upper echelon for over a year.

The District Planning Committee is expected to approve the plan’s deposit, a move that would allow it to be prepared for final approval at the committee level.

According to an Israeli official, Bennett told Blinken the project was just at the planning stage.

“Regarding Atarot: the prime minister said that this is a decision of a District Committee that has not yet reached the doorstep of the political echelon,” the official said.

Blinken spoke to Bennett from Stockholm, where he is attending a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Bennett believes that Israel has a right to build anywhere in its united capital. The Biden administration, the international community, and the PA believe Jerusalem should be a shared capital in a two-state resolution to the conflict.

They have all objected to Jewish building plans, such as the new neighborhood in Atarot, which they believe would thwart the possible creation of a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem.