U.S. Ambassador to Israel: Biden Will Oppose Settlement Expansion, 'Netanyahu Understands It’

In an interview with Kan News, Ambassador Tom Nides said the U.S. has been 'very clear' about keeping the two-state solution alive ■ On Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s plan to limit the power of the country’s judiciary: 'I'm not here to involve ourselves in the judicial process of Israel'

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U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides in December 2022.Credit: Emil Salman
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Haaretz

The United States will oppose any moves to significantly expand Israeli settlement in the West Bank, Ambassador Tom Nides declared on Tuesday, calling such a policy detrimental to a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Asked about the new government’s intent to annex parts of the territories, Nides told journalist Gili Cohen of of the public broadcaster Kan that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “understands the position of the United States, which is to keep the vision of a two-state solution alive. And he understands that we understand that massive settlement growth will not accomplish that goal.”

“I don't do red lines or yellow lines. I'm just telling you what our values are,” he said. “We've been very clear about the ideas of legalizing outposts, massive settlement expansion. It will not keep a vision of a two-state solution alive, [in] which case we will oppose it, and we'll be very clear about our opposition.”

The new government’s coalition agreement begins with a declaration that the Jewish people have a “natural right” to the Land of Israel and, while vague regarding annexation, states that the prime minister will advance policies within whose framework the West Bank will be annexed, taking into consideration timing and both international and national interests.

It stipulated that within 60 days a decision will be made pertaining to outposts established before February 2011 – including ensuring they have proper infrastructure, water, electricity, and public facilities. In addition, within six months, the cabinet will make a decision on illegal neighborhoods inside existing settlements.

Despite denying that Washington has set any red lines for the new government, Nides’ comments came only days after the U.S. appeared to do just that, with State Department spokesperson Ned Price telling reporters last week that the West Bank outpost Homesh “is illegal even under Israeli law.”

The government wishes to create a legal framework for an Israeli presence in Homesh, which was evacuated during the 2005 Gaza Disengagement.

The matter of outpost legalization has been one area where the Biden administration has explicitly indicated would be a matter on which they would forcibly push back against Israel, alongside matters that would harm the two-state solution like the Temple Mount status quo, settlement expansion and annexation.

Official U.S. statements, including congratulatory statements from U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken and a readout of a call with Blinken and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, explicitly emphasized “the continued U.S. commitment to a two-state solution and opposition to policies that endanger its viability.”

Following National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir's visit to the Temple Mount earlier this month, Price said in a briefing that the incident had “the potential to exacerbate tensions and to provoke violence” while a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said that Nides had “very clear in conversations with the Israeli government on the issue of preserving the status quo in Jerusalem’s holy sites.”

“Actions that prevent that are unacceptable,” the spokesman said.

Asked if he would speak to Ben-Gvir, now that he is a member of the cabinet, Nides told Kan on Tuesday that his “interface is with the prime minister,” who has “told all of us he has his hands very firmly on the wheel.”

“I'm not saying we're not going to meet with people or are going to meet with people. My interlocutor is the prime minister and the prime minister's office. He's in charge of the government,” Nides answered, explaining that Netanyahu “has said over and over again that he's not going to allow for the status quo to change at the Temple Mount. And we take him at his word.”

“There's no boycotts. I don't boycotts. This is not what I do. We are going to work with the Israeli government,” he continued. “We'll work with everyone. But in principle, what I'll be working with is a prime minister.”

But while Nides was willing to discuss Washington’s stance on the settlements, he declined to express an opinion on Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s recently announced plan to limit the power of the country’s judiciary through a series of overhauls – which polling indicates are opposed by a majority of Israelis.

Among other measures, the government will pursue legislation that would permit the Knesset to override Supreme Court decisions by the slimmest majority of 61 votes in the 120-seat parliament, as well as legislation to tip the balance on the Judicial Appointments Committee in favor of politicians. Currently, the judges on the committee effectively have veto power over the appointment of Supreme Court justices.

“I'm not here to involve ourselves in the judicial process of Israel,” he said.

“The Israeli people don't want to be lectured by America, okay. We have shared values. We're going to let the Israeli public articulate their support or their dismay, that's up to them. It's not up to the United States to be commenting around the judicial issues that they face.”

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