White House demands Israel explain 20,000 new West Bank homes

 

U.S. State Dept. expressed ‘deep concern’ over newest construction tenders, saying White House does ‘not recognize the legitimacy of settlements.’

And once again, Palestinian President Abbas threatens to call off peace talks.

 

The U.S. State Department said it is “deeply concerned” by Israel’s  announcement over the tenders issued for the construction of 20,000 new settlement units in the West Bank and that it is demanding explanations from Israel.

Construction in Har Homa - AP

Construction in Har Homa. – Photo: AP

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that Washington was taken by surprise and had no prior knowledge of the plans. “We were surprised by it and we are seeking explanation from the Israeli government. It was not discussed in advance. We don’t recognize the legitimacy of settlements.”

National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said: “We are deeply concerned by these latest reports that over 20,000 additional units are in the early planning stages.  We are currently seeking further explanation from the Government of Israel.  Our position on settlements is quite clear:  We have always considered the settlements to be illegitimate.”

Meehan added: “We have called on both sides to take steps to create a positive atmosphere for the negotiations.  We do not consider settlement planning, even in its early stages, to be a step that creates a positive environment for the negotiations.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas threatened to call off peace talks if Israel did not go back on its new settlement plans. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas had tasked him with passing on his ultimatum to the Arab League and the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers — the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States.

“If Israel does not go back on its latest construction plans for the settlements, that will spell a formal declaration of the end of the peace process,” Erekat quoted Abbas as saying in his warning, AFP reported.

Earlier on Tuesday, Israel’s Housing Ministry admitted that the tender in the E1 area was done behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s back.

Just hours after the news broke, Netanyahu ordered a halt to the construction plans in the E1 area. The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement: “There is no reason to pay an international price for a planning process that isn’t that significant.” This tender is part of a plan for over 20,000 housing units throughout the West Bank, the largest in the last decade.

 

Netanyahyu: ‘There is no E1. I won’t hear of it

Details on the plans for new settlement construction landed on Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit’s table Tuesday morning, including the plans for 1,200 units in the controversial E1 area between Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem.

According to sources close to Netanyahu, Mendelblit went right away to the Prime Minister’s Office to update him. “Netanyahu immediately told Mendelblit to tell [Housing Minister] Uri Ariel there is no E1. I won’t hear of it.”

Mendelblit contacted the housing minister to inform him of the prime minister’s demand to halt the planning process for E1, but as of Tuesday evening, the two hadn’t spoken directly.

Sources close to Netanyahu said Housing Minister Ariel’s move “was irresponsible and thoughtless. Israel is concentrating all its diplomatic efforts on the Iranian issue in order to avoid a bad deal, and suddenly this move comes in and steers all international attention to the issue of settlements.”

The broader plan of some 20,000 housing units encompasses several urban areas, as well as the Binyamin Regional Council and Gush Etzion. This is an unusually large number of tenders, unprecedented in the last decade. The tenders are for planning only – some are skeleton plans, some constitute general urban building schemes and others, detailed urban building schemes.

 

View original HAARETZ publication at: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.557681

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