The US State Department on Monday slammed Israel for allowing the construction of a new yeshiva building overnight in the illegal West Bank outpost of Homesh.
A spokesperson for the State Department reiterated that the US is “deeply troubled” by the move, “which is inconsistent with both former prime minister Sharon’s written commitment to the Bush administration in 2004 and the current Israeli government’s commitments to the Biden administration.”
The mention of current commitments is likely a reference to Jerusalem’s agreement at regional conferences in February and March to a four-month moratorium on discussing new settlement units and a six-month freeze on okaying new outposts.
The statement added that US officials “regularly engage with Israeli officials on this issue and will continue to do so.”
The statement also heavily echoed the comments made by the US following the repeal of the Disengagement Law earlier this year.
The building in Homesh was constructed at a new site on state land in the illegal outpost, moving the controversial yeshiva from its old site, which has been declared private Palestinian land by the Supreme Court.
The move came a little over two months after the Knesset voted to repeal the 2005 Disengagement Law in parts of the northern West Bank, which barred Israelis from entering the territory of Homesh, demolished as part of the Disengagement.
The Civil Administration, which has authority over planning and construction in the West Bank, did not provide permits for the construction of the yeshiva, and the building is illegal under Israeli law. The government hopes the outpost can be legalized, as do Homesh activists, in line with the position the state adopted in its most recent filing to the High Court.
Kan news reported Monday evening that the IDF warned Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ahead of the expected construction at Homesh that the move was “borderline legal,” but the government is reportedly unlikely to move to demolish the structure.
Condemnation of the new construction at the highly contentious outpost was also issued by the European Union on Monday.
A statement from the EU said it “condemns the establishment of permanent structures for Israeli settlers in the Homesh outpost in the occupied West Bank.” The EU called on the government “to reverse this action” which goes “against efforts to lower tensions on the ground.”
Last week, aides to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to assure the Biden administration that Israel was not pursuing a major expansion in West Bank settlements, as the premier still seeks an invitation to the White House, as well as US assistance in securing a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia.
Jerusalem also insisted to the White House that there were no plans to establish a new settlement in Homesh, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel last week.
The repeal in March of parts of the 2005 Disengagement Law led to the summoning of Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog — a move not made in over a decade.
In recent months, the US has repeatedly pointed to a letter Sharon sent Bush some 20 years ago, in which the premier committed to evacuating the four northern West Bank settlements in order to make room for more Palestinian territorial contiguity in the area. In exchange, Bush would go on to offer his own written recognition of the need for land swaps in a future peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, allowing the so-called settlement blocs closer to the Green Line to remain under Israeli control.
For its part, the Netanyahu government has argued that the Obama administration was the first to dismiss the Sharon-Bush exchanges, by rejecting a notion that the US was willing to differentiate between the blocs and settlements located deep in the West Bank.