U.S. Expected to Pressure Israel on Settlement Construction

Americans to demand Israel avoid creating facts on the ground that complicate reaching a future deal.

Even though the American administration would prefer an Israeli government that is committed to a two-state solution, the United States does not intend to take a stance on the composition of the next coalition. In view of the expected naming of Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu to form a coalition with the support of right-wing parties, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. envoy George Mitchell will focus during their next visit to Jerusalem on efforts to preserve the West Bank under the control of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

The Americans will demand that Israel avoid creating new facts on the ground that may burden achieving an agreement in the future. Toward this end, the U.S. administration is preparing to put heavy pressure on the new government to freeze all settlement construction and keep its promises to lift roadblocks. A freeze on settlement activity will be a higher priority than removing illegal outposts.

Measures the Obama administration is likely will be to cut the equivalent sum of the latest investments in settlements from the remaining budget for U.S. guaranteed loans, approximately $1.3 billion out of a total of $10 billion that the U.S. made available to Israel for it to absorb immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

In Jerusalem the view is that in the absence of any progress in the Annapolis process, the partners to the U.S. in the Quartet - the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - will ask for real steps to be taken against Israel in response to the continued construction in the settlements.

Last week the Czech Republic, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, protested officially to the Foreign Ministry over activities in Area E1 [the neighborhood to be built between Ma'aleh Adamim and Jerusalem] and plans to expand the settlement of Adam to take in those evacuated from the settlement of Migron.

Senator Mitchell's team will include experts who are familiar with the subject of the settlements and the ways in which Israel has avoided meeting its obligations for years.

In his report to then president George Bush in late April 2001, Mitchell rejected Israel's view that it is possible to expand the existing settlements to meet the needs of a naturally growing population there. The report also warned that the security cooperation that Israel is seeking from the Palestinians is incompatible with the expansion of settlements. The Bush administration did not heed the report and except for discreet protests ignored the ongoing expansion of settlements.

Meanwhile the State Department is evaluating the implication of reports that MK Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beiteinu, was a member of the extreme right group Kach. It appears on a State Department list of terrorist organizations.

If the Obama administration confirms the report that appeared last week in Haaretz, and which was not denied by Lieberman, the Yisrael Beiteinu leader may not be granted a visa to enter the U.S. The close cooperation between Israel and the U.S. on matters of strategy, defense, economics, commerce, tourism and transportation means that ministers charged with relevant portfolios often visit the United States.

A new MK, Michael Ben-Ari of the National Union, confirmed that he had been a member of Kach while it was headed by Meir Kahane and may face similar restrictions.