US avoids condemning Israel after 2,000 settlement homes approved

National Security Council says it ‘welcomes’ Jerusalem’s willingness to take Washington’s concerns about West Bank construction into consideration

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House on  March 5, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House on March 5, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

The United States avoided condemning Israel’s approval of thousands of West Bank homes on Wednesday, instead insisting that it “welcomes” Jerusalem’s commitment to taking US concerns regarding its settlement policy into consideration.

“The Israeli government has made clear that going forward, its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the president’s concerns into consideration. The United States welcomes this,” a spokesperson for the National Security Council told The Times of Israel.

“The president has made his position on new settlement activity clear, and we encourage all parties to continue to work toward peace,” the US official added.

The White House position on settlements has shifted considerably since former president Barack Obama left office in the beginning of 2013. Contrary to his “not one brick policy,” which opposed any construction beyond the 1967 lines, his successor Donald Trump has taken a less confrontational approach.

Construction workers begin work on the new settlement, Amichai, meant to resettle the evacuees of Amona, June 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The former real estate mogul has several times voiced his view that settlements are “unhelpful,” and asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements.”

However, the White House has also avoided criticizing any particular plan from the dozens that have been approved for construction during Trump’s first year and a half in office.

In March 2017, Netanyahu announced a new policy regarding settlements, proclaiming that his government was respecting Trump’s concerns over unfettered construction.

Officials from the Prime Minister’s Office at the time said that the new approach includes self-imposed restrictions that will “significantly limit the expansion of settlements beyond the footprint of existing settlements.”

According to the left-wing Peace Now NGO, at least 1,500 of the housing units advanced Wednesday “are clearly outside the built-up areas” of their respective settlements. Maps of several of the approved projects show that they are for neighborhoods not contiguous with the already existing settlements.

Of the 1,957 homes green-lighted by the Civil Administration’s High Planning subcommittee, 696 gained final approval for construction while 1,262 cleared an earlier planning stage known as a “deposit.”

Roughly half of the homes advanced will be located in isolated settlements, outside the so-called settlement blocs that most Israeli leaders argue will remain part of the Jewish state in any peace deal with the Palestinians.

Nonetheless, the US National Security Council spokesman insisted that “the [Trump] administration is firmly committed to pursuing a comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

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