PA agrees to yank UN measure, even as Israel readies to advance settlement package
Facing US pressure, Ramallah suffices with symbolic Security Council statement panning settlements, while Israel will agree to halt some, but not all, activity beyond Green Line
Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent
The Biden administration has managed to coax the Palestinian Authority to withdraw its support from a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate end to settlement activity, after convincing Israel to temporarily hold off on a handful of measures meant to further entrench its presence in the West Bank, four sources told The Times of Israel on Sunday.
However, according to an Israeli official, those measures will not include holding off on advancing plans for some 10,000 new settlement homes deep in the West Bank, which will be brought before the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing such construction on Wednesday and Thursday.
Instead, Israel has agreed to not authorize additional settlement homes for several months — something it was not intending to do anyway, as the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration traditionally convenes once every three months, the Israeli official explained.
Israel has also agreed to hold off on demolishing and evicting Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank for several months and consented to reduce military incursions into PA-controlled Area A of the West Bank during that time, two US and Palestinian officials said, confirming a report in the Walla news site.
Ramallah, in turn, has agreed to withdraw its support for a Security Council resolution calling for an immediate halt to Israeli settlement activity, which was supposed to come to a vote on Monday. The US has instead agreed to back a symbolic, non-binding Presidential Statements from Security Council members to the same effect, which will also include a condemnation of terror attacks and violence inflicted on both sides, two senior UN diplomats said. It would be the first such statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in nine years.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also agreed to adopt a US plan to boost the PA’s security presence in the northern West Bank, where the IDF increasingly has been operating, sparking deadly clashes with Palestinians on a regular basis over the past several months.
As part of the effort to bring Abbas on board, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told him that the US would invite him to meet with US President Joe Biden at the White House later this year, a Palestinian official said.
Meanwhile, a US official and a Mideast diplomat told The Times of Israel last week that the Biden administration put on hold plans to extend a White House invitation to Netanyahu, given concerns over some of the hardline government’s early policy proposals, and that the US plans to wait and see how events unfold on the ground during Ramallah before re-addressing the issue.
The commitments mark a modest breakthrough though, after the Biden administration’s month-long efforts to urge the Israelis and the Palestinians to take steps to lower tensions, particularly as the holy Muslim month of Ramadan approaches in late March.
The US has been engaging intensively with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, given an uptick in violence that has taken the lives of 11 Israelis in terror attacks and nearly 50 Palestinians since the start of the year — most of them in clashes with soldiers, but some in less clear circumstances.
While the US was thought to have been making progress in the effort to coax the sides to pause their controversial activities beyond the Green Line and in the UN after the visits of White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month, things began to unravel when a Palestinian terrorist rammed his car into a bus stop in East Jerusalem killing three people, including 6- and 8-year-old brothers on February 10.
Israel responded days later by approving the legalization of nine outposts — many of them on private Palestinian land — and green-lighting plans for some 10,000 settlement homes for advancement this week, in what would be the largest-ever package of projects ever approved in one sitting.
The PA responded by pushing the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution condemning the decision. The UAE picked up the gauntlet and drafted a resolution calling for an immediate halt to settlement activity, putting the US in an uncomfortable position, as it too had spoken out aggressively against last Sunday’s decision by Israel.
Despite principally supporting the decision, the Biden administration has long maintained that the UN is not the right forum for adjudicating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Blinken appeared to have made progress over the weekend following calls with Netanyahu and Abbas, in a last-ditch effort to bring the sides toward a compromise.
The high-level engagement paid off on Sunday, with each side agreeing to come down temporarily from their initial plans.
A Palestinian official clarified that the situation remained fluid and that Ramallah would “respond to any unilateral action by Israel.”
The US official acknowledged that there was no set time period for how long the sides would agree to hold off on steps beyond the Green Line and at the UN, but they said that the administration would “continue to engage with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in order to maintain calm and keep prospects for a two-state solution alive.”