State Department says U.S. is strongly opposed to “settlement activity” after Israel approves new homes in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood.
The State Department on Wednesday issued a scathing condemnation of Israel after it issued building permits for 181 new homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, located in the southern part of the city.
Jerusalem spokeswoman Brachie Sprung said plans in Gilo were first approved in 2012 and that Wednesday’s approvals were for “technical details of plot distribution,” reported The Associated Press.
She said more detailed building permits will be required before the units are built.
Nevertheless, State Department spokesman John Kirby blasted the move, telling reporters, “We strongly oppose settlement activity.”
Kirby further stated that Israel’s actions “risk entrenching a one-state reality” and raise serious questions about the Jewish state’s commitment to a negotiated settlement with the Palestinian Authority.
Channel 2 News first reported last week that Jerusalem would approve new construction projects in areas located beyond the “Green Line”, including the 181 new housing units in Gilo.
The 181 units in question are several residential buildings to be built by a private developer.
The U.S. administration has repeatedly condemned Israeli construction in Jerusalem in general, and specifically in Gilo. In July, the State Department described plans to build in Gilo as “corrosive” to peace.
Israel later rejected the international criticism over its planned construction in Jerusalem as “lacking any factual basis”.
“The claim that the construction in Gilo undermines the solution of two states for two peoples is lacking any factual basis and diverts attention from the real obstacle to peace – the Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state under any borders,” it said.
Israel National News
The White House has instructed the State Department to prepare an “options menu” detailing potential diplomatic steps that could be taken as part of an end-of-term Israeli-Palestinian peace push, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
In an editorial — titled “Obama’s Israel Surprise?” — the WSJ said a UN Security Council resolution that condemns Israeli settlement construction or formally recognizes a Palestinian state would be “a boon to the bullies in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, while also subjecting Israeli citizens and supporters abroad to new and more aggressive forms of legal harassment…Does Mr. Obama want to be remembered as the President who criminalized Israeli citizenship?”
Moreover, asserted the editorial, a Security Council resolution setting parameters for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would be an even graver “blunder.”
“President Obama may be the last man on earth to get the memo, but after decades of fruitless efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it might be wiser for the U.S. to step back until the Palestinians recognize that peace cannot be imposed from the outside,” it concluded. “If Mr. Obama is still seeking a Middle East legacy at this late stage in his presidency, his best move is do nothing to make it worse.”
In Politico on Monday, State Department veterans Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky advised whomever the next president is not to “chase after Israeli-Palestinian peace without clear indications that the locals themselves and the Arabs, too, are prepared to act.”
“Washington should stay away from high-profile U.S.-initiated efforts to take on the big peace process issues,” they wrote. “The advice Bill Clinton gave to one of us before the July 2000 Camp David summit is inspirational but not always right: trying and failing isn’t better than not trying at all. Failure undermines U.S. prestige and power in war and peacemaking. It already has.”
“[T]he time for American-created transformational diplomacy in this region has long passed…If Americans want Hollywood endings, they should think about going to the movies,” Miller and Sokolsky concluded.
Over the weekend, the Washington Post said any Obama-led Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative launched during the lame-duck period between the presidential election on Nov. 8 and the inauguration of Obama’s successor on Jan. 20. would likely be viewed in the Middle East as “legacy-seeking grandstanding rather than as a contribution to peace.”
As reported extensively by The Algemeiner, concerns have been growing that Obama might not protect Israel at the UN as his time in office comes to an end. Last week, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer said Hillary Clinton supporters must call on the Democratic presidential nominee to ensure Obama refrains from making any diplomatic moves against the Jewish state.
Earlier this month, Malcolm Hoenlein — executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — told The Algemeiner he had “some concerns about what Obama and others may do” regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process before Jan. 20.
“This is based on things I heard from him a year ago about his priorities and the understandable importance of his legacy to him,” Hoenlein said. “And I listen to his speeches and I have seen some of the harsh statements that are being issued…about Israeli settlement policies. The language being used is much stronger than we’ve seen in the past and I’m afraid that this could be indicative of what a forthcoming UN Security Council resolution against settlements, or something that goes even further, might look like.”
US: “This settlement’s location deep in the West Bank… would link a string of outposts that effectively divide the West Bank and make the possibility of a viable Palestinian state more remote,”
Israel intends to move ahead with plans to construct 98 new homes in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh, despite harsh United States objections to the plan.
On Monday the state informed the High Court of Justice it awaited final bureaucratic approval to develop the site within six months as a relocation option for the 40 families from the Amona outpost.
It, therefore, asked the HCJ to delay by seven months the mandated December 25 demolition of the outpost.
Alternatively, the state said, it was also pursuing the option of using the abandoned property law, so that it could relocate the outpost to land adjacent to the community’s current location.
Washington has rebuked Israel for both plans, but the State Department issued a particularly sharp statement in which it said the Shiloh project was tantamount to the creation of a new settlement, something Israel had promised the US it would not do.
“This settlement’s location deep in the West Bank… would link a string of outposts that effectively divide the West Bank and make the possibility of a viable Palestinian state more remote,” the State Department had said.
But in its statement to the High Court of Justice, the state said that it wanted to avoid the kind of violent clashes that occurred in 2006 at the outpost between right-wing activists and security forces, during a court mandated demolition of nine homes.
It warned that a poorly executed evacuation “could have a security and political impact on the region,” particularly given “the sensitive reality” in which Israel finds itself.
“The state wants to prevent the harsh images and results, as well as the injuries, that accompanied the evacuation that occurred there a decade ago,” the prosecutors said, noting that there are 200 children living in the outpost.
The Campaign to Save Amona has stated that the families have no intention of leaving of their own volition, and have warned politicians, including Netanyahu, to watch out for their seats in the next election should their community be destroyed.
The Amona families have called on Netanyahu to retroactively legalize 2,000 unauthorized homes throughout Judea and Samaria built on private Palestinian property.
The bill offers to compensate the Palestinian landowners either financially or with alternative lots.
Most members of Netanyahu’s Likud and Bayit Yehudi factions have promised to support that bill.
But in a speech to mark the opening session of the Knesset on Monday, Netanyahu hinted that he would not do so, when he told the plenum he intended to demolish the Amona outpost.
“I am certain that at the end of the day the [Amona] residents will evacuate responsibly,” he said. “We need to remember that we are a nation of laws.”
Netanyahu told the Knesset that there won’t be any other government that would help their enterprise more than his has done.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who spoke immediately after Netanyahu, reminded the parliamentarians that the High Court had issued it’s ruling in 2014, thereby giving the state two years to evacuate the outpost residents.
He added that the issue was whether a nation of laws would sanction land theft by authorizing 2,000 homes built without permission on private Palestinian property.
Politicians can’t argue about the need to comply with law and then try to skirt a court ruling, Herzog said. They can’t speak of the importance of the rule of law, and simultaneously support a bill to retroactively authorize such settler homes throughout the West Bank.
“You are talking about an arrangements bill for private property that would harm the principles of justice of a nation of laws,” Herzog said. “That is not an Arrangements bill, it’s a concealment bill without shame.”
In its document to the court, the state also spoke of the bill as well as the determination of the Amona families to remain where they are.
The prosecutors said they hoped those objections would fall away when it was understood that the entire community would be relocated to permanent homes together at the same new location.
The state said that it had begun seeking alternative sites in January 2015, and had weighed sites in the settlements of Ofra, Ma’aleh Mishmash, and Ma’aleh Amona before settling on the possibility of building a new neighborhood in the Shiloh settlement, next to one named Shvuet Rachel.
Amona was built in 1995 without permits from the government or the Defense Ministry on private Palestinian property. It received a NIS 2.1 million grant from the Ministry of Housing and Construction.
The state’s request to delay the outpost’s evacuation is the latest in a series of delays to an initial court ruling, which was issued in response to a petition by the non-governmental group Yesh Din.
It called on the court to reject the petition stating that it was an “insult to the rule of law” and was politically motivated to “evade carrying out the ruling.”
“Yesh Din expects the High Court to reject this request swiftly in order to aid the State in directing its efforts to enforcing the law and returning the land in question to its rightful owners, residents of the Palestinian communities of Silwad, Taybeh and Ein Yabrud, as it should be doing,” the group said.
The nomination of Antonio Guterres, former prime minister of Portugal, as the next secretary-general of the United Nations did not come as a surprise for those acquainted with his international activity. Guterres, a great believer in multilateralism, served for a decade as the high commissioner for refugees of the UN (2005-2015) in charge of the most burning issue on the international agenda. His efforts to alleviate the suffering of Iraqi and Syrian refugees were possibly without precedent worldwide.
Guterres is very much a champion of collective diplomacy to bring peace to the Middle East. He is well-known to some Israeli Labor Party leaders, as he served as the secretary-general of Socialist International from 1999 to 2005, and he was a close friend of late President Shimon Peres.
Guterres will undoubtedly bring to the office of the UN secretary-general some innovative approaches, both on the international refugee crisis and in the field of conflict resolution, especially regarding Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Indeed, he has strong views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is a friend of Israel, historically inspired by Israel’s dramatic nation-building since its establishment. He is fully opposed to the occupation of the West Bank and to Israeli settlement policies. He believes Israel’s security can only be assured by a fair two-state solution guaranteed by the international community.
Terje Roed-Larsen, the president of the International Peace Institute, was one of the initiators of the Oslo peace talks in the early 1990s while serving as a Norwegian diplomat and was later appointed UN undersecretary-general on the situations in Lebanon and Palestine. He told Al-Monitor that Guterres will bring to the table “out of the box” thinking on conflict resolution and will most probably be a very proactive secretary-general, not giving in to the traditional US pressure on the UN to stay out of international conflict resolution.
His nomination still fresh, Guterres has already started consulting international think tanks on different conflict-resolution perspectives. A diplomatic source told Al-Monitor that such an initiative was recently proposed to Guterres by UN policy planners and New York-based international think tanks. The idea is to enhance the role of the UN in an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution process, expanding the UN role on the issue beyond serving as a platform for international resolutions at the General Assembly and Security Council.
This proposal, which is currently being studied by Guterres’ aides, seeks to advance Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution by proposing to create a UN support mission on Palestine to foster the establishment of a Palestinian state, structured somewhat like the UN special mission on Libya, which deals with institution building, human rights and the rule of law, the security sector and international aid. Its purpose would be to work with the Palestinian Authority (PA) on the establishment of a state, leaving the negotiation on permanent status to the parties and the Quartet (of which the UN is a member).
According to a UN policy planner who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, such a plan can be conducive to a two-state solution with the international community working with the Palestinian leadership and officials on different aspects of statehood, without changing the existing status quo on the ground. The mission would be conducted by experts in governance, economics and security from various UN member states to be decided by the Quartet.
According to the plan explored by these UN policy planners and international New York-based brain trusts, the special mission for Palestine would deal with four issues.
The first would be democratic transition to statehood — the development of modern democratic Palestinian state institutions based on the existing governmental, parliamentary and judicial structures of the PA. The second would be rule of law and human rights, according to the UN charter. This would include formulating a Palestinian Constitution in complete respect of the Palestinian sovereign right to make its own decisions. Another issue would be that of security. The UN — under US leadership — would train PA security personnel in anti-terror policies. The fourth issue handled by the mission would be international assistance for Palestinian state building, coordinated by the European Union. The EU partners would reach out to the international donor community to financially assist the state institution-building process.
The UN policy planners told Al-Monitor that such a plan would demand extensive deliberations and could be decided upon by the UN General Assembly. The next US administration would have to give its greenlight. Such a mission, monitored by the Quartet, could only take place in parallel to permanent status negotiations between the parties.
Asked about these propositions, a Palestinian senior official told Al-Monitor that the Palestinian leadership would accept such a proposal only if coupled with clear terms of reference and a timeline for permanent status.
On the Israeli side, the reaction is negative and condescending. A senior Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs official told Al-Monitor that the UN could have no role in Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution because of the UN anti-Israel bias.
In any case, there is little doubt that the next UN secretary-general will be a diplomatic activist when it comes to the Middle East, and he will make a genuine effort to convince the international community to engage in a multilateral two-state solution process.
Israel is successfully expanding its global network at a time of strained U.S.-Israeli relations over Palestine.
Israel’s growing diplomatic, military, and economic ties across the Middle East, Africa and Asia should shatter an enduring myth: that the Israel-Palestinian conflict will make Israel an international pariah.
These ties reflect not only the foresight of Israel’s leaders, the doggedness of its diplomacy and the strength of its economy, but also the rise of Iran in the region and the spread of terrorism beyond it.
Consider the irony. Israel’s ties to the United States and Europe are strained over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, particularly with Washington, the Iranian nuclear deal – even though Israel is the lone nation in the turbulent Middle East that shares the West’s values of freedom and democracy.
Meanwhile, Israel’s ties to regional states, African nations and Russia and China are growing due to shared military challenges or economic opportunities – even though Israel has little in common with them.
To be sure, the U.S.-Israeli relationship remains a paramount concern in Jerusalem. Israel relies heavily on U.S. aid as well as America’s backing at the United Nations and other global bodies. The two nations share intelligence and work together on mutual concerns in the region and beyond.
Nevertheless, Israel’s growing global network is enhancing its flexibility on the world stage and reducing Washington’s leverage over Jerusalem. That’s good for Israel at a time of strained U.S.-Israeli relations, and it leaves America and Europe looking obsessed with an issue of reduced global concern.
Consider the contrast. Early this month, the Quartet (the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations) warned that Israeli settlements threaten the viability of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, echoing the repeatedwarnings of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande, who hosted 28 nations in Paris last month as a “first step” toward organizing an international conference to restart peace talks, told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week that he’s committed to leading global efforts to find peace.
But, across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, nations have far greater concerns than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Jerusalem is capitalizing on the opportunities that those concerns now offer. It’s working more closely with Egypt, with whom it has enjoyed a mostly cold peace since 1979, due to their shared concerns over terrorist activity in the Sinai Desert. Israel has allowed Egyptian forces back into the Sinai, while Egypt has allowed Israel to use drones to target terrorists.
An upcoming book about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank won’t tell the whole story.
A retired Saudi general visited Israel last week with a delegation of academics and businessmen, reflecting Riyadh’s growing interest in closer ties with Jerusalem as each faces an increasingly aggressive Iran.
And in June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a reconciliation agreement with Turkey, a once-close ally that now faces a host of security concerns both within and on its borders.
However important are these growing regional ties, more impressive are the inroads Israel is making in Africa after decades of isolation in the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973 – after which a slew of African nations cut ties to the Jewish state under Arab pressure.
In early July, Netanyahu took the first trip by an Israeli leader to Africa in decades. While he was there, Tanzania announced it would open an embassy in Israel and both Kenya and Ethiopia announced they would push for Israel to receive observer status at the African Union regional bloc.
Since then, Guinea has announced that it will resume ties with Israel 49 years after cutting them, while Israeli Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold traveled to Chad to meet with President Idriss Deby. Meanwhile, top officials from Mali, Chad and Somalia – none of which have diplomatic relations with Israel – secretly visited the Jewish state recently, perhaps presaging stronger ties down the road.
Rather than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, these African nations care about expanded trade with Israel as well as its expertise in agricultural technology, water conservation and counter-terrorism.
For Israel, Africa may be poor, but its economy is growing quickly, presentingopportunities for trade. That’s important at a time when Europe is growing more slowly and threatening sanctions over Israeli settlements.
Perhaps more important, greater ties with Africa will enable Israel to better protect itselfat the United Nations and other global bodies. That two African nations, Rwanda and Nigeria, helped block Palestinian efforts in 2014 to push a deadline for statehood through the Security Council could be a sign of the future.
A wise Washington would see that its obsession with Israeli-Palestinian peace and its propensity to blame Israel unfairly for the impasse are shared by fewer nations in the volatile region and beyond.