US envoy condemns new settlement building plans

Dan Shapiro criticizes Israel’s decision to push ahead 1,500 units in West Bank and East Jerusalem as response to Palestinian unity government

US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro speaks at the Jewish Federations' General Assembly (GA) in Jerusalem on November 11, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)
US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro speaks at the Jewish Federations' General Assembly (GA) in Jerusalem on November 11, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)

The US ambassador to Israel condemned on Thursday a plan to build 1,500 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, announced as a retaliatory measure to the formation of a Palestinian unity government earlier this week.

“We oppose settlement construction in the West Bank as well as announcements regarding such construction,” Dan Shapiro told Army Radio. “We would do so with or without this disputed case of a new Palestinian transitional government.”

Shapiro’s statement was the first official US response to the Housing and Construction Ministry decision to publish tenders for the 1,500 units, announced early Thursday morning.

Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel called the move an “appropriate Zionist response to the Palestinian terror government.”

Of the housing projects approved by Ariel’s ministry, over 700 are slated for the Etzion Bloc settlements of Efrat and Beitar Illit south of Jerusalem, with another 76 planned in Ariel, 78 in Alfei Menashe, 155 in Givat Ze’ev, and 400 in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo.

An additional 38 are to be built outside what’s considered the major West Bank settlements blocs, in the West Bank settlement of Geva Binyamin, north of Jerusalem.

The settlement construction announcement came after opposing Palestinian parties Fatah and Hamas set aside their differences and formed a national unity government Monday, ending seven years of hostility.

Israel and the US consider Hamas a terror group. Israel has opposed the government and called on the world to boycott it, but the US said it would continue to work with Ramallah, angering some in Jerusalem.

Shapiro said, though, that the US did not recognize Hamas as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people despite the establishment of the new government.

“We have no illusions about Hamas; Hamas is a terrorist organization,” he said.

“We have no ties with Hamas and we will not work with them, we will not give them assistance, and we will not work with any government of which Hamas is a member.”

The new Palestinian cabinet sworn in Monday, considered a technocratic interim cabinet meant to steer the Palestinians toward new elections, does not include any Hamas ministers.

The United States, the EU, the UN and Russia have all accepted to work with the cabinet.

Jerusalem on Monday night slammed the United States for announcing that it will work with the new Palestinian unity government. Israeli officials said that Washington ought to be urging Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to disband his pact with Hamas and resume peace negotiations with Israel instead of associate with a terror group.

US Secretary of State John Kerry responded to criticism Wednesday saying Abbas “made clear that this new technocratic government is committed to the principles of nonviolence, negotiations, recognizing the state of Israel, acceptance of the previous agreements and the Quartet principles.”

“Based on what we know now about the composition of this technocratic government, which has no minister affiliated to Hamas and is committed to the principles that I describe, we will work with it as we need to, as appropriate,” he said.

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