Israel Rejects U.S. Criticism: Planned West Bank Construction Not a New Settlement

Foreign Ministry rejects U.S. harsh statement accusing Netanyahu of breaking commitment by approving new settlement for Amona settlers. Palestinians are real obstacle to peace, not the settlements, says statement.

The Israeli settlement of Shilo in the West Bank.
The Israeli settlement of Shilo in the West Bank. Emil Salman

Verbal clashes between Israel and the U.S. over resettlement plans of the illegal outpost of Amona escalated Wednesday evening, after a Foreign Ministry statement rejected American criticism and claimed that the construction plans approved last week do not constitute the creation of a new settlement.

"The settlements are not the obstacle to peace," said the Foreign Ministry statement.

The Prime Minister's Office did not issue an official response, but Haaretz has learned that the Foreign Ministry statement was worded and approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his advisers alongside Foreign Ministry staff. 

The 98 housing units approved in Shilo do not constitute a "new settlement," read the statement. "This housing will be built on state land in the existing settlement of Shilo and will not change its municipal boundary or geographic footprint. The units are intended to provide a housing solution for the residents of Amona who must leave their homes in accordance with the demolition order issued by Israel's High Court of Justice."

The Israeli Foreign Ministry statement added that Israel remains committed to the two-state solution, "in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state of Israel."

"The real obstacle to peace is not the settlements – a final status issue that can and must be resolved in negotiations between the parties - but the persistent Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state in any boundaries," said the statement.

On Wednesday, the U.S. administration published an unusually harsh statement against a plan to build an alternative settlement for residents of the illegal outpost of Amona.

The statement, signed by Mark Toner, deputy spokesman for the State Department, drew an unusual linkage between the signing of the defense aid agreement with Israel and criticism of settlement building.

Toner stressed that the U.S. views advancement of the plan as a violation of a commitment by Netanyahu's government not to establish any new settlements in the West Bank.

The White House later further escalated the criticism, as Josh Ernest said that the decision constitutes a violation of a commitment undertaken by the Israeli government to the U.S. administration, adding that this isn't how friends behave.

"We had public assurances from the Israeli government that contradict this new announcement – so when you talk about how friends treat each other – this is also a source of concern. There is a lot of disappointment and great concern here at the White House," he said.

The criticism comes against the backdrop of the Civil Administration Planning Commission's decision last Wednesday to approve a plan for the construction of 98 housing units in the new settlement to be established next to the Shvut Rachel settlement.

According to the plan, it will be possible to build up to 300 housing units and an industrial zone. The NRG web site and Channel 2 were the first to publish the decision. The new settlement, which settlers say is only a neighborhood of the existing settlement of Shvut Rachel, can provide housing for residents of the illegal outposts of Amona, who are expected to be evicted by the end of December.

A senior U.S. official said that the White House boiled with anger at the advancement of the plan and even more at the timing of the decision – just a week after the signing of the military aid agreement by which the U.S. will give Israel $38 billion for a decade, and the day of the death of former president Shimon Peres, whose funeral was attended by President Barack Obama.

A large part of American anger was due to the administration seeing the step as a violation of a commitment Netanyahu gave Obama in 2009 that Israel would not build any new settlements. In his speech at Bar-Ilan that year, Netanyahu said he agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state and added: "The territorial issues will be discussed in a permanent agreement. Till then we have no intention to build new settlements or set aside land for new settlements."