White House: Netanyahu Broke a Commitment, That's Not How You Treat Your Friends

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk during the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk during the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016.Credit: Menahem Kahana, Pool via AP

The White House on Wednesday escalated criticism voiced by the State Department in Washington against a decision to advance a plan to establish a new settlement in the West Bank.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the decision constitutes a violation of a commitment undertaken by the Israeli government to the U.S. administration and said 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.

Israel has rejected the American accusations, saying that the planned construction does not constitute a new settlement.

The White House's statement 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.

Earnest said the declaration about advancing the plan to build a new settlement "provoked strong feelings" at the White House. He said the American anger was due to a combination of factors – the decision to advance construction in the settlements, the placement of the settlement deep inside the West Bank on land closer to Jordan than Israel and the timing of the declaration, on the day of former president Peres's death and a week after the signing of the defense aid package.

The White House spokesman said every U.S. administration since 1967 has opposed construction in the settlements and any attempt to set facts on the ground in a way that would undermine a two-state solution.

He added that the White House believes that "actions speak louder than words" and the U.S. has shown this when it signed an unprecedented defense aid agreement with Israel that will ensure its military advantage in the region. "But if we talk about actions – the Israeli government action of announcing this new settlement undermine the pursuit of peace," Earnest said.

In its own criticism, the State Department drew an unusual linkage between the signing of the defense aid agreement with Israel and criticism of settlement building. 

Mark Toner, deputy spokesman for the State Department, 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.

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."

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro spoke on Sunday with Israel's acting national security adviser Jacob Nagel, confronting him with the decision to move forward with plans for the construction of a new settlement for those to be removed from the Amona structures.

A senior American source who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said that Shapiro told Nagel that the U.S. considers it unacceptable that in order to solve the illegality of the Amona outpost, the Israeli government has created a much larger problem.

Shapiro stressed to Nagel that despite Israel's claims that the plans are only to expand an already existing settlement, the U.S. recognizes the action as the creation of a new settlement, which contradicts commitments made by Netanyahu to the U.S. government.

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