Rejecting US criticism, PM denies settlements are preventing peace

Palestinian incitement is key obstacle, charges Netanyahu, after State Department says plans for new homes in East Jerusalem, West Bank raise questions about Israel’s commitment to peace

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with President of Rwanda Paul Kagame, at Kigali, Rwanda, on July 6, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with President of Rwanda Paul Kagame, at Kigali, Rwanda, on July 6, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

KIGALI, Rwanda — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected international criticism of his recent decision to build additional housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The US State Department, the UN and the European Union have harshly criticized those plans, which were announced after two Israelis — a 13-year-old girl and a father-of-10 — were murdered by Palestinian terrorists last week.

“We’re familiar with the American position; we don’t accept it. Building in Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim is not, with all due respect, distancing peace,” Netanyahu said, speaking at a press conference here alongside Rwandan President Paul Kagame. “What is preventing peace is the ongoing incitement against the existence of Israel within any borders, and it is time for the nations of the world to recognize that truth.”

Jerusalem is willing to enter direct bilateral peace talks with the Palestinians “with no preconditions,” the prime minister said. However, it is Ramallah that is refusing to negotiate, he charged. “These are the things that prevent peace, and not another couple of apartments (built) by the Ma’aleh Adumim municipality or in East Jerusalem.”

Netanyahu was speaking a day after the State Department accused Israel of systematically seizing Palestinian land after the Jewish state okayed the construction of 800 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In an unusually strongly worded statement, spokesman John Kirby said the reports of new construction permits called into question Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution.

“If its true, this report would be the latest step in what seems to be the systematic process of land seizures settlement expansions and legalization of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution. We oppose steps like these which we believe are counterproductive,” Kirby said.

He added that Washington was “deeply concerned” about the move.

“This action risks entrenching a one-state reality and raises serious questions about Israel’s intentions,” he said, citing a report released by the Quartet for Mideast Peace which criticized Israeli settlement building.

State Department Spokesman John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing at the State Department on January 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN)
State Department Spokesman John Kirby (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Kirby said the US was having “tough discussions” with Israeli leaders over moribund peace efforts with the Palestinians.

“We’re going to continue to look for leaders in the region to do what they need to do … to demonstrate leadership to take down the violence, reduce tensions,” he said.

On Sunday night, Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman approved hundreds of new housing units in Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem. Israel regards East Jerusalem, which it annexed after the 1967 war, as part of its unified, sovereign capital.

According to the plan, 560 new units will be built in Ma’ale Adumim, a West Bank settlement to the east of the capital, 140 homes were approved for the Jewish East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot and 100 for the Har Homa neighborhood, in southeastern Jerusalem.

The move came in response to the killing of Hallel Yaffa Ariel, 13, who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian while sleeping in her bed on Thursday, and to the shooting of Rabbi Miki Mark and the injuring of his family as they were driving near Hebron a day later.

Both Ariel and Miki Mark’s wife Chava Mark, who was seriously injured in the attack, are American citizens, but Kirby indicated their citizenship did not play a role in any US response to the attacks.

“Any death and any injury is significant when it results from this sort of violence,” he said, reiterating Washington’s condemnation of the attacks.

The State Department’s statement followed a similar denunciation from UN chief Ban Ki-Moon a day earlier.

File: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on March 14, 2016 at the United Nations in New York (AFP/Don Emmert)
File: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on March 14, 2016 at the United Nations in New York (AFP/Don Emmert)

The UN leader is “deeply disappointed” that Israel’s announcement came days after last week’s release of a key report by the Middle East diplomatic quartet — the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations — that urged Israel to stop building settlements, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement Monday.

“This raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by continuing statements of some Israeli ministers calling for the annexation of the West Bank,” he added.

Ban said that “settlements are illegal under international law” and called on the Israeli government to “halt and reverse such decisions in the interest of peace and a just final status agreement.”

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