ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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Likud MK tells US envoy that Israel will continue to push for settlement expansion

Edelstein stresses need for building beyond Green Line in meeting with Nides; in phone call, Netanyahu and Modi agree to meet soon; FM sits down with UK minister for Middle East

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Yuli Edelstein, right, meets with US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides at the Knesset on January 11, 2022. (Knesset Spokesperson's Office)
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Yuli Edelstein, right, meets with US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides at the Knesset on January 11, 2022. (Knesset Spokesperson's Office)

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein told US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides on Wednesday that the new Israeli government plans to expand settlements in the West Bank, despite the Biden administration’s objections.

“I expressed to the ambassador my clear position regarding the need for construction in the areas of [Jewish] settlement in Judea and Samaria,” Edelstein said in a statement following his meeting with Nides, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.

“I lived in the Etzion bloc for 28 years… Families there are growing, and their lives cannot be stopped. Construction should continue,” added Edelstein, who also chairs the Knesset’s high-level Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Edelstein might not set Israel’s settlement policy, but he is part of a coalition that adamantly backs expanding Israeli presence in the West Bank. The guiding principles of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government state that the Jewish people have “an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel,” including the West Bank.

Likud also signed coalition agreements pledging to expand Israeli settlements and advance annexation of large parts of the territory. The latter clause is dependent on Netanyahu’s approval, however, and is not expected to be formally adopted given the premier’s desire to reach a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia, which opposes the controversial policy.

But plans to ratchet up building in the settlements are likely to draw the ire of the Biden administration, which has repeatedly spoken out against such moves.

On Tuesday, Nides told the Kan public broadcaster that Netanyahu understands the US stance in favor of “keep[ing] a vision of a two-state solution alive” as well as its opposition to “legalizing outposts and massive settlement expansion.”

Construction of new housing in the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut, in Gush Etzion, October 3, 2022. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Also during the Wednesday meeting, Edelstein said he and Nides discussed the Iranian nuclear threat. “We both agreed that the most important issue is the Iranian one, and we expressed our mutual commitment to handling and managing this acute crisis.”

Edelstein said he told Nides that Israel remains committed to the status quo at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Temple Mount by which non-Muslims are allowed only to visit under strict conditions and Muslims are allowed to visit and pray at the site, which they refer to as the Noble Sanctuary.

Edelstein called for Palestinian Authority to be reprimanded for making claims to the contrary.

Nides last week sounded off on the Israeli government after far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the site.

The ambassador said in a statement then that he had “been very clear in conversations with the Israeli government on the issue of preserving the status quo in Jerusalem’s holy sites” and that “actions that prevent [the preservation of the status quo] are unacceptable.”

He struck a different tone on Tuesday though, saying that Netanyahu “has said over and over again that he is not going to allow for the status quo to change at the Temple Mount. And we take him at his word.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount, January 3, 2023 (Courtesy Minhelet Har Habayit)

Nides did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his meeting with Edelstein, and his office did not issue a readout of its own.

Also on Wednesday, Netanyahu held his first phone call since returning to the premiership with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.

Modi congratulated Netanyahu on his reelection and the two reaffirmed the importance of cooperation between the two nations, according to a statement from Netanyahu’s office.

The two agreed to meet soon, the statement said, without giving details.

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu also spoke with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. The Prime Minister’s Office said that the two agreed to advance a joint dialogue between the Dutch and Israeli governments.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen met with Lord Tariq Ahmad, the UK minister for the Middle East region.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (L) meets with Lord Tariq Ahmad, the UK minister for the Middle East region in Jerusalem on January 11, 2023 (Rafi Ben Hakoun/GPO)

According to the Foreign Ministry, Cohen praises the UK for its intention to add Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to its terror list, calling it a “clear message to the Iranian terror regime.”

Cohen, who spoke on the phone with British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Tuesday, also stressed the importance of reaching a free trade agreement with London.

Ahmad said that he reiterated British support for a two-state solution, and discussed the Iran threat, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Abraham Accords.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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