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Israelis Assess U.S. Settlement View -- WSJ

4 Feb 2017 7:32 am
By Rory Jones 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday was neutral while others in the country appeared confused in response to the White House statement that said Israel's settlement construction "may not be helpful" in achieving peace with the Palestinians.

Mr. Netanyahu reiterated that he looked forward to a scheduled meeting with President Donald Trump on Feb. 15 at the White House to discuss "a wide range of issues, including this one." according to a statement from his office.

In recent weeks, Israel has approved more than 6,000 new housing units in communities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank that much of the international community considers illegal and an impediment to peace with the Palestinians.

The announcements have drawn scathing rebukes from Palestinian officials.

On Thursday, comments by White House press secretary Sean Spicer appeared to soften previously pro-Israel stances and signal that the White House could take a tougher line on settlement construction.

"While we don't believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal," Mr. Spicer said.

Israeli lawmakers and settlers appeared confused by whether the comments indicated that the White House was for or against settlements.

"The White House itself holds that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace and they never have been," Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said Friday.

"It must be concluded therefore that expansion of construction is not the problem," she said.

"The Yesha council thanks the White House for asserting that our communities were never an impediment to peace," said Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy for the council, which represents the 430,000 Israeli residents of the West Bank.

"I would not categorize this as a U-turn by the U.S. administration, but the issue is clearly on their agenda," Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, told Israeli media.

"We will not always agree on everything. "

Hours before the White House statement Thursday, Israel cleared the West Bank settlement outpost of Amona of about 40 families, along with hundreds of protesters. Israel's high court in 2014 ordered that the outpost should be evacuated, saying parts had been constructed on Palestinian land.

The eviction was fiercely opposed by many in Mr. Netanyahu's right-wing government. In an apparent move to appease them, he said the government would build the first new settlement in years to house evacuated Amona residents.

Ahead of winning the U.S. presidential election in November, Mr. Trump's advisers indicated he wouldn't force a two-state solution on Israel and the Palestinians.

Since the election victory, the U.S. president has said he is examining moving the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a shift that would effectively recognize the city as Israel's capital. Talk of a possible move has angered Palestinians who want to establish East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Mr. Trump has nominated David Friedman, his lawyer, as U.S. ambassador to Israel. Mr. Friedman has raised millions of dollars for a major settlement in the West Bank, a fact that Palestinians have said could complicate his role as U.S. envoy.

Write to Rory Jones at rory.jones@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 04, 2017 02:32 ET (07:32 GMT)

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