Senior PA official: Trump’s silence on settlements encourages more building
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Senior PA official: Trump’s silence on settlements encourages more building

Saeb Erekat says Palestinians are ‘waiting to hear an official response from the American administration’

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Leading Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, during a news conference in Ramallah on the West Bank on January 2, 2012. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/ FLASH90)
Leading Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, during a news conference in Ramallah on the West Bank on January 2, 2012. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/ FLASH90)

WASHINGTON — Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Thursday accused the Trump administration of encouraging Israeli settlement construction, and hurting the chances of a two-state outcome, with its lack of response to recently announced building projects beyond the Green Line.

“We’re waiting to hear an official response from the American administration, President [Donald] Trump’s administration, on the Israeli settlement activities,” Erekat said in a video posted on Twitter by the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Earlier this week, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced the approved expansion of West Bank settlements, with 2,500 new homes to be built, mostly inside what Israel considers the principle blocs it expects to retain under an accord in exchange for land swaps.

The precise location, size and scope of those blocs, however, have never been agreed upon by Israelis and Palestinians.

The announcement came just two days after Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had their first phone call since the president assumed power.

It also came two days after a Jerusalem planning committee approved 566 housing units in East Jerusalem, a move that was delayed while former president Barack Obama voiced strong objections, but came shortly before the Sunday phone conversation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump meeting at the Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump meeting at the Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The administration has remained quiet since then. Asked at a press briefing Tuesday for a response, White House press secretary Sean Spicer neither approved nor condemned the decision, saying that the two countries’ leaders would discuss the matter when Netanyahu visits Washington next month.

Netanyahu, for his part, has signaled to his governing coalition that he intends to accelerate construction with the new US president far less hostile to the settlement enterprise than his predecessor. The latest building announcements were just “a taste,” he told Knesset members Wednesday. “We are going to be doing many things differently from now on.”

In his video statement, Erekat said Trump’s silence on the construction boom was emboldening Netanyahu to defy the international community, which recently scolded the Jewish state for its settlement enterprise in the United Nations Security Council.

“In the Prime Minister’s Office,” he said, “many people think that the American silence is a sign of encouraging them to add more and more and more to the settlements.”

Last month, Obama withheld the US veto from UNSC Resolution 2334, which was highly critical of the settlements, designating them as having “no legal validity” and constituting “a flagrant violation under international law.”

in this Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 file photo, A Jewish settler looks at the West bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, from the E1 area on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Sebastian Schooner)
in this Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 file photo, A Jewish settler looks at the West bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, from the E1 area on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Sebastian Schooner)

The motion also called for a complete end to all construction in areas Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War, including East Jerusalem.

Nodding to the UN’s recent censure, Erekat said Israel’s actions were contravening the international community’s consensus on the settlements’ illegality.

“We’re waiting to hear an official American response on the intensification of the illegal Israeli settlement activities that [are] torpedoing and destroying the two-state solution,” he said.

Jerusalem responded to the measure’s passage with fury — and Trump signaled repeatedly that he would adopt a different posture toward Israel than Obama, tweeting to Israelis that “things will be different” after he assumed power.

Obama, who routinely criticized Israel when it approved new settlement projects, maintained that those responses were acts of friendship, as he saw expanding settlement in the West Bank as self-destructive to Israel’s long-term sustainability.

“I don’t see how this issue gets resolved in a way that maintains Israel as both Jewish and a democracy,” he said in his final press conference. “Because if you do not have two states, then in some form or fashion you are extending an occupation.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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