Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly dismissed objections made by the Biden administration in the past month over Israeli expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, according to a Thursday report.
Three times since the beginning of April, US officials reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office to express their opposition to Israeli steps beyond the Green Line, Channel 12 reported.
The first appeal came early last month after an Israeli planning committee advanced 540 new units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa, the first Jewish construction in the city’s majority-Palestinian eastern part since US President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
The objection was issued by the chargé d’affaires of the US embassy in Jerusalem, Jonathan Shrier. Netanyahu dismissed the concern, according to the report.
Later that month, the more senior US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan raised similar concerns over both construction approvals in East Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank. Netanyahu retorted that “Jerusalem is not a settlement, but the capital of Israel,” the report said, not specifying how the premier objected to US concerns over building in the West Bank.
A third message by the US was sent on Wednesday expressing concerns in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where ultranationalist Jewish groups are seeking to evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes.
In that exchange as well, American concerns were said to have been dismissed.
The issue of Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Palestinians view as integral parts of their future state, was expected to be a point of contention between Jerusalem and the Biden administration, which backs a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, Biden has been seen as less forceful in his criticism of the issue than some of his more progressive colleagues and those close to the administration say Washington is hoping to avoid public spats with Jerusalem on this and other issues. Such quarrels were rather common when Biden was vice president under Barack Obama, who prioritized the Israeli-Palestinian issue far more than the current president.
But as the Biden administration vows to uphold a “rules-based international order,” it will likely come under increasing pressure from more progressive Democrats to come down harder on Israel over what they view as violations of international law being carried out beyond the Green Line.
At least six Democrats in the House published tweets on Wednesday against the looming Sheikh Jarrah evictions and police crackdowns against protests over those rulings.
“The Israeli police violence against Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah is completely unacceptable,” wrote Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan.
“The Israeli military is forcing hundreds of Palestinians out of their homes. US taxpayer dollars should not fund annexation of Palestinian land or destruction of Palestinian homes,” he added, apparently referring to legislation introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum which seeks to prohibit US aid from going toward arrests of Palestinian minors, demolition of Palestinian homes or the furthering of annexation of West Bank land.
The bill is not expected to pass, nor even come to a vote, but has sparked massive backlash from mainstream pro-Israel groups.
The Supreme Court will hold a discussion next Monday on an appeal by four Palestinian families — more than 70 people — against their evictions in Sheikh Jarrah.
According to Ir Amim, a left-wing human rights group focusing on Jerusalem, around 200 families in East Jerusalem are under similar threat, with cases slowly moving through administrative bodies and Israeli courts. Around 70 of those families live in Sheikh Jarrah.
The evictions are based in part on a 1970 Israeli law that allows Jews to reclaim East Jerusalem land owned by Jews before 1948. No similar law exists for Palestinians who lost their homes in what is now Israel during the 1948 war and fled to what was then Jordanian-controlled territory.
Joining the US in its opposition to building plans in Har Homa on Thursday were France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain.
The five European countries issued a joint statement urging Israel “to reverse its decision to advance the construction of 540 settlement units in the Har Homa E area of the occupied West Bank, and to cease its policy of settlement expansion across the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
“If implemented, the decision to advance settlements in Har Homa, between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, will cause further damage to the prospects for a viable Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and a Palestinian State,” they added.
The Har Homa construction has been long-promised but long-delayed. The most recent push to build more units in Har Homa began last February, when Netanyahu announced on the eve of the March 2020 elections that he had lifted restrictions on construction there, sparking controversy.
Israel claims all of Jerusalem, including neighborhoods captured in the 1967 Six Day War or later built beyond the Green Line, as its undivided, eternal capital.
On Wednesday, a State Department spokesperson told The Times of Israel that it was “deeply concerned” over the Knesset’s advancement of legislation that would legalize 70 wildcat outposts throughout the Wes Bank.
“As we have long said, it is critical that Israel refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions or take us further away from peace. This includes evictions, settlement activity and home demolitions, and certainly includes the legalization of Israeli outposts in the West Bank that have long been illegal even under Israeli law,” the spokesperson added.
The comments by the State Department official represented some of the more critical public ones made by the Biden administration, which has regularly coupled its calls on Israel to avoid unilateral moves with similar warnings to the Palestinians.