Responding to a US reprimand on a recent rash of settlement construction, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely on Friday insisted that the Palestinian stance — not Israeli policy — was responsible for stalled talks, and highlighted the White House’s stated position that expansion in these communities was “not an obstacle to peace.”
“The current Israeli government was elected to act on the Jewish People’s right to build in all parts of our land and we must respect the will of the people who elected us for this purpose,” Hotovely said in a statement.
“The White House itself holds that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace and they never have been. It must be concluded therefore that expansion of construction is not the problem.”
Hotovely also accused the Palestinians of intransigence in peace efforts, which she said were the real cause of the stalemate in negotiations.
“In the past 25 years all paths towards any kind of solution have been blocked by the Palestinians,” she said.
“The core questions as to the sources of the conflict should therefore be reexamined and new solutions proposed. Among others, a regional solution should be considered which will release us from a dependence on the Palestinians who are incapable of reaching an agreement.”
In the less than two weeks since Trump took office, Israel has announced the construction of some 6,000 new homes in existing settlements, drawing rebuke from the international community, but not — until Thursday night — from the Trump White House.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday night: “While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful.”
Hotovely’s comments came shortly after Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon also sought to downplay the rebuke, and denied any White House policy reversal.
The statement, Danon told Israel Radio, was a sign from the new administration that it has not yet set policy regarding the settlements and would do so following the upcoming talks between the Israeli and American leaders later this month.
“I wouldn’t call it a U-turn, the statement is very clear. The meaning is: Wait until the meeting with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, who arrives in Washington in less than two weeks for a meeting with President [Donald] Trump and then set policy,” Danon said.
Danon called the statement “a signal from the administration that the issue is on the agenda.”
“The administration and the president said they intend to advance the process in the region, both talks with regional leaders and during the election campaign,” he said.
Like Hotovely, the ambassador and former Likud minister said that Israel would determine its own policies.
“We are a sovereign state,” Danon said. “We will not be in full agreement with the United States on everything over the next four years, but there is communication and messages are being passed.”
He also favorably compared the new administration to the policies of the Obama administration, which in its final days declined to veto an anti-settlement resolution at the UN, thereby guaranteeing its passage.
“This period seems to be much better than the last eight years,” Danon said.
Settlements in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem are viewed by nearly all the international community as illegal under international law and major stumbling blocks to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians envision for their future state.
Trump had signaled a more tolerant approach to Israel’s settlement enterprise, nominating a prominent US settlements supporter, David Friedman, to be his ambassador to Israel. He also invited a delegation of settler leaders to his inauguration last month.
Spicer also said Thursday that Trump was looking forward to continuing to discuss the issue with Netanyahu when he visits the White House on February 15. Later Thursday, the State Department said new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson phoned Netanyahu. It was not immediately clear what the two discussed.
Netanyahu on Wednesday announced plans for the establishment of a new West Bank settlement to replace the illegal outpost of Amona, which was evacuated and largely demolished on Wednesday and Thursday in keeping with a High Court of Justice order.
The settlement would be the first new one to be built in some 25 years. While Israel stopped establishing settlements in the early 1990s, outposts set up since then have been retroactively given approval, and existing settlements have expanded their footprints, sometimes being neighborhoods of existing settlements in name only.