White House: Set­tle­ment de­mands not help­ful

The Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By TOVAH LAZAROFF and MICHAEL WILNER

Calls to freeze set­tle­ment ac­tiv­ity have not as­sisted the peace process, a White House of­fi­cial said on Tues­day, in re­sponse to re­ports that Is­rael could ad­vance plans for thou­sands of new set­tler homes next week.

“Pres­i­dent Trump has pub­licly and pri­vately ex­pressed his con­cerns re­gard­ing set­tle­ments, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion has made clear that un­re­strained set­tle­ment ac­tiv­ity does not ad­vance the prospect for peace,” a White House of­fi­cial told The Jerusalem Post.

“At the same time, the ad­min­is­tra­tion rec­og­nizes that past de­mands for a set­tle­ment freeze have not helped ad­vance peace talks.”

The of­fi­cial spoke with the paper after Is­raeli of­fi­cials said that the Higher Plan­ning Coun­cil for Judea and Sa­maria would meet next week to ad­vance plans for 3,736 set­tler homes.

“The Is­raeli gov­ern­ment has made clear that it has been adopt­ing a pol­icy re­gard­ing set­tle­ment ac­tiv­ity that takes the pres­i­dent’s con­cerns into con­sid­er­a­tion,” the of­fi­cial said.

“As you know, we are fo­cused on a comprehensive peace agree­ment be­tween the Is­raelis and the Pales­tini­ans that will re­solve core is­sues be­tween the par­ties.”

Many in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, as well as the Pales­tini­ans and the former Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, spoke of the set­tle­ment is­sue as the stum­bling block to the peace process.

But the White House of­fi­cial em­pha­sized that it was not help­ful to iso­late one is­sue as the source of the prob­lem.

“We are view­ing the mat­ter holis­ti­cally and seek­ing a com­plete so­lu­tion, rather than deal­ing with is­sues in iso­la­tion,” the of­fi­cial said.

Is­rael has long held that set­tle­ment build­ing should not im­pact the peace process, not­ing that ne­go­ti­a­tions were held in the past while set­tle­ment build­ing con­tin­ued.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu has been un­der pres­sure from Likud politi­cians, the Bayit Ye­hudi Party and set­tler lead­ers to in­crease build­ing in West Bank set­tle­ments in the af­ter­math of the Obama years.

They charged that the latest an­nounce­ment with re­gard to set­tle­ment ac­tiv­ity did not be­gin to make up for the many years of lim­ited con­struc­tion.

In par­tic­u­lar they noted the ab­sence of ap­provals for new roads and in­dus­trial parks. Set­tler sources said that Ne­tanyahu was un­der pres­sure from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to con­strain set­tle­ment ac­tiv­ity. One source noted that the US knew as much about the projects as the Civil Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Judea and Sa­maria did.

Set­tler lead­ers have been par­tic­u­larly con­cerned that Ne­tanyahu is over­dra­ma­tiz­ing the ac­tual num­ber of projects in which con­struc­tion can oc­cur.

The Coun­cil of Jewish Com­mu­ni­ties in Judea and Sa­maria said that only 700 new homes would re­ceive fi­nal ap­proval next week, and an­other 2,000 would be ad­vanced.

Sa­maria Re­gional Coun­cil head Yossi Da­gan, who is a mem­ber of the Likud cen­tral com­mit­tee and an ar­dent sup­porter of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, has had par­tic­u­larly harsh things to say about Ne­tanyahu’s set­tle­ment pol­icy.

Ne­tanyahu has con­tin­ued to clamp down on set­tle­ment build­ing, just as he did dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, Da­gan charged.

“Un­for­tu­nately, Ne­tanyahu is miss­ing a his­toric op­por­tu­nity here,” Da­gan said.

Trump might not like the set­tle­ment build­ing, but he won’t con­demn it like Obama did, Da­gan said.

Is­raeli of­fi­cials said in re­sponse: “There is no one who has done more in a wise and de­ter­mined man­ner for the set­tle­ments than Ne­tanyahu.”

To date, plans for 5,000 set­tler homes have been ad­vanced and ten­ders have been is­sued for 3,000 homes.

After the Higher Plan­ning Coun­cil for Judea and Sa­maria meets, the num­ber of home plans that will have been ad­vanced this year will rise to al­most 12,000, Is­raeli of­fi­cials said.

That is four times the num­ber of home plans that were con­sid­ered in 2016, the of­fi­cials said. This in­cludes projects for set­tle­ments that have not seen new homes in many years. Among the projects on the list are new hous­ing for the Jewish com­mu­nity in He­bron, per­ma­nent homes for the evac­uees from the Mi­gron out­post and 300 homes in the Beit El set­tle­ment.

“Those who claim that this is not a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment mis­lead the pub­lic,” the of­fi­cials said.

The coun­cil’s meet­ing comes as Trump is work­ing to ad­vance a new peace process be­tween Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans.

(Tovah Lazaroff)

A CON­STRUC­TION SITE is seen in the set­tle­ment Be­tar Il­lit.

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