Kerry Tells Netanyahu: U.S. Will Not Recognize Settlement Blocs in Return for West Bank Gestures

Meeting between prime minister and U.S. secretary of state ends in stalemate as U.S. says 'a big no' to Netanyahu's offer from two weeks ago.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hold a meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015.
AP

Secretary of State John Kerry, currently on a visit to the region, told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting on Tuesday that the United States would not agree to recognize construction in the West Bank settlement blocs in exchange for Israeli steps in the West Bank, as Netanyahu had suggested during their meeting in the U.S. two weeks ago.

Deputy State Department Spokesman Mark Toner told reporters during the daily briefing that the American answer to Netanyahu’s demand in this matter was “a big no.” He added that both Republican and Democratic administrations regarded construction in the settlements and Israeli attempts to create facts on the ground as undermining a two-state solution.

"Every U.S. administration since 1967...has opposed Israeli settlement activity. This administration has been no different and will be no different,” Toner said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, leave the microphones after speaking briefly to the media before their meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015.
AP

During their Tuesday meeting in Israel, Netanyahu told Kerry that Israel would not take any of the steps the Palestinian Authority wanted to see in the West Bank until the level of violence had declined. The senior official said Netanyahu also told Kerry that there is no freeze on construction in the settlements, nor will there be any such freeze.

“The first condition for changing the security and economic conditions on the ground is restoring the quiet,” a senior Israeli official quoted Netanyahu as telling the visiting secretary of state.

An Israeli source familiar with the details of the Netanyahu-Kerry meeting said that it ended without results and with no agreement on Israeli steps in the West Bank. According to the source, because of the recent string of attacks, Netanyahu refused to make moves that he had already proposed to Kerry two weeks ago and reiterated that if he took the steps Kerry demanded, such as authorizing major Palestinian projects or construction for Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank, it could lead to the breakup of the coalition. “Netanyahu took a harder line and Kerry left the meeting without any significant progress,” the source said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry waves as he boards his plane in Tel Aviv prior to his departure from Israel en route back to the United States following meetings in Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 24, 2015.
AFP

Moreover, according to the official, the prime minister toughened his stance and in effect backtracked on his willingness to take steps in the West Bank regardless of the security situation, as he proposed during his visit to Washington about two weeks ago. Most of the measures suggested included economic benefits for the Palestinians and advancing Palestinian infrastructure and construction projects in the West Bank.

The senior official thus confirmed a report in Tuesday’s Haaretz which said that at Netanyahu’s last meeting with Kerry in Washington, the prime minister had conditioned any Israeli gestures toward the Palestinians on American acquiescence to Israeli construction in the settlement blocs.