US quietly presses Israel to stop settlement building – report

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The Biden administration is relying on Israel to hold back settlement building in the West Bank, although both sides want to avoid any tension over the matter, the Axios website reported on Wednesday, citing Israeli and US officials.

The report noted Washington reiterated its position on the issue after learning that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appeared to go back on assurances he gave to US President Joe Biden when they met in August.

At the time, Axios said, Biden told Bennett he expected Israel to exercise restraint in construction, and the Israeli leader replied that construction would only be done to meet demands. of “natural growth”. However, after his return to Israel, The Times of Israel reported that Bennett told settler leaders he said “no” to Biden’s demands for settlement.

Bennett, a former leader of the umbrella settlement movement that opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, reassured settler leaders that construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem would not slow down despite US pressure.

Following the report, U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Jerusalem Michael Ratney once again clarified Biden’s point of view to senior officials in the prime minister’s office, according to Axios. Ratney, in particular, raised concerns about the E1 area near Jerusalem, a key region of Palestinian territorial contiguity connecting the northern and southern regions of the West Bank.

A US official told Axios that since the meeting in Washington, the administration has been in weekly contact with Israel about the settlements.

The website noted that Bennet, who heads the pro-settlement Yamina party, wanted to announce the approval of 2,000 new housing units in settlements and around 1,000 new units in Palestinian villages before traveling to Washington. However, a strike by workers in a Defense Ministry department responsible for Israel’s administration in the West Bank prevented approval. Biden having specifically told Bennett to slow down, Israeli officials are now reluctant to approve the new housing, an Israeli source told Axios.

“There is currently a great sensitivity among Americans about the settlements,” said a senior Israeli official. “This is the reason why approval for new planning and construction in the settlements is on hold for the time being.”

The prime minister’s office said it would not comment on private conversations with U.S. officials, and the U.S. embassy has also kept a low profile on communications between the two allies, although it called “all parties to refrain from unilateral measures that exacerbate tensions and undermine efforts. advance a negotiated two-state solution. This includes colonization activity.

The far-right religious Zionism party responded to the report by saying that Bennett’s coalition “invites international pressure.”

“There is a de facto construction freeze in Judea and Samaria,” the party said in a statement, using the biblical name for the West Bank. Israel is already paying a high price for [government’s] failed driving.

David Elhayani, who is the current chairman of the umbrella council of mayors of the Yesha settlements, said in a statement: “It would be better if the Biden administration did not get involved in Israel’s internal affairs.

“We will not suffer this crass American intervention, and we expect Prime Minister Bennett to reject it altogether,” Elhayani said.

Although Biden is committed to a two-state solution that would see a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he does not want to wrangle publicly with Israel, whose new ruling coalition is a delicate mix of left-wing parties, center and right that harbor politically diverse ideologies, Axios said.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who now leads the opposition, has vowed to return to power. A report released earlier this year said Netanyahu had repeatedly rejected the Biden administration’s objections to Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

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