Biden administration won’t prevent settlement expansion, says source close to PM

Official claims Americans ‘don’t care that much’ about new move to approve 3,000 West Bank homes; Bennett government doesn’t believe the US will reopen consulate to Palestinians

US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Despite strong and public US opposition to the Israeli advancement of some 3,000 West Bank settlement homes earlier this week, a source close to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett claimed the Biden administration doesn’t actually care a great deal about the new building expansion, and won’t prevent future similar moves.

“Contrary to the impression they’re trying to make, the Americans don’t care that much about the Ministry of Construction and Housing’s decision, and they have no problem tolerating it,” the source said, according to a Friday report from The Times of Israel’s sister site Zman Yisrael.

“This construction is not part of the conversation we are having with the Americans. We noticed that. The Americans understand the political situation here very well, and they do not want to see [the coalition] go down over this [issue]. They also know what the alternative is,” Zman Yisrael quoted the source close to Bennett as saying.

On Wednesday, the Defense Ministry’s higher planning council, which authorizes West Bank construction, said 1,804 housing units were given the final approval for construction. Another 1,326 units were advanced to a later stage of the planning process.

It is the first time settlement units have been approved during the Biden administration and by the current Israeli government led by Bennett. The plan was originally set to go up for approval two months ago but was stalled by the Civil Administration, the governing body that operates in the West Bank.

On Tuesday, the US State Department said it was “deeply concerned” about Israel’s plans to advance new settlement homes, including many deep inside the West Bank.

“We strongly oppose the expansion of settlements, which is completely inconsistent with efforts to lower tensions and to ensure calm, and damages the prospects for a two-state solution,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken phoned Gantz on Tuesday voicing similar objections regarding the scope and location of the settlement approvals, another Israeli official confirmed.

New housing construction in the Nokdim settlement in the West Bank, south of the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, on October 13, 2020. (Menahem Kahana / AFP)

Separately, Zman Yisrael quoted the source as saying the Bennett-led government believes the Biden administration will hold off from reopening the US consulate in Jerusalem, the de facto mission to the Palestinians in Israel’s capital.

“This is our perception and these are the messages we are transmitting and receiving, and it does not matter what is being published on the matter,” the source said.

The consulate was shuttered by former US president Trump in 2019 and its staff was folded into the US embassy, which moved to the city a year earlier, in what the Palestinians viewed as a downgrading of their ties with the US.

US officials maintain that reopening the consulate is simply a return to the pre-Trump status quo and part of Biden’s pledge to renew relations with the Palestinians that were severed during the previous administration. Moreover, they point out that nearly a dozen other countries already operate consulates in Jerusalem that serve the Palestinians.

However, Israel is opposed to the Biden administration’s plan to reopen the consulate, viewing it as an encroachment of their sovereignty in the city and one that will lead to a flood of other countries moving to open diplomatic offices in Jerusalem to serve the Palestinians. Israel’s permission would be required for the consulate to reopen, a US official acknowledged this week.

View of the US Consulate in Jerusalem on October 27, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meanwhile, regarding the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar, which its settlers recently evacuated while the government conducts a survey of the land in order to determine its status, the source said some of the lands are state-owned, and not privately Palestinian-owned.

The source close to Bennett quoted by Zman Yisrael spoke of plans to build a yeshiva on the hill once the survey is complete, per an agreement between the Defense Ministry and the outpost’s settlers.

“The whole story of Evyatar is a landmine left to us by Benjamin Netanyahu before we formed this government. We managed to dismantle this landmine. There is no reason to give Netanyahu another landmine against the government,” the source added.

“This is a right-wing government,” the source told Zman Yisrael. “Everyone understands this.”

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