Kerry Calls Israeli Envoy to Protest Legalization of West Bank Outposts

In unusual move, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry phones Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren to demand explanations, voice protest.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren last week to protest the planned legalization of four West Bank outposts.

The government had previously promised to demolish the outposts, but last week informed the High Court of Justice that it intends to legalize them.

A senior Israeli official told Haaretz that after Kerry learned of the Israeli decision last Thursday, he personally called Oren and requested clarifications, stressing that the move undermines his efforts to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Kerry requested that the government rethink its decision, or at least postpone the outposts’ legalization.

A phone call from the secretary of state to a foreign ambassador to demand explanations and voice a protest is considered a very unusual move, one that indicates Kerry’s anger at the Israeli decision. Such protests are usually conveyed through lower-level channels.

The announcement of the outpost legalizations contradicts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s commitment to Kerry to “restrain” settlement activity. Netanyahu made this commitment after Kerry asked both sides to refrain from provocations that might derail his efforts to renew negotiations.

Responding a question from Haaretz, a State Department spokeswoman said the administration had raised the issue at a high level with the Israeli government’s representatives in Washington. Aharon Sagi, the Israeli embassy spokesman, declined comment.

The four outposts are Givat Assaf, located near Beit El; Mitzpeh Lachish in the South Hebron Hills; Ma’aleh Rehavam in Gush Etzion; and Givat Haroeh, located near the settlement of Eli. The decision to legalize them, and Kerry’s protest, both came on the eve of the secretary of state’s fourth visit to the region.

Kerry is due to meet Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Friday. He is then expected to return for further talks with both leaders the following week.

A senior State Department official said the meetings “are to follow up on ongoing discussions as we continue to assess how best we can support the parties in getting back to the table and in having a dialogue leading to peace. We remain committed to working with the parties to achieve a lasting peace through direct negotiations.”

Kerry is also due to attend the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, which is being held on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. President Shimon Peres is scheduled to leave for Jordan on Sunday to attend that meeting as well, though the trip has yet to be finalized and officially announced.

Peres will probably hold separate meetings with Kerry, Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan. Haaretz has learned that efforts are being made to schedule a panel discussion on the peace process, with the participation of Kerry, Peres, Abbas and Abdullah.

Today, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is due to convene to discuss the stalemate in talks with the Palestinians. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni will represent the government and brief the committee on the government’s talks with the U.S. administration. Livni said yesterday that “Kerry is determined to renew the process with the Palestinians, and his determination expresses the Israeli interest, as I see it.”

The outpost of Givat Assaf.Credit: Moti Milrod

Comments