Ne­tanyahu’s set­tle­ment vow rat­tles peace ef­fort

Re­fusal to evac­u­ate spurs Pales­tini­ans to ask for U.S. help.

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY'S TOP NEWS - By Josef Fe­d­er­man

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s vow to never evac­u­ate Jewish set­tle­ments from oc­cu­pied land drew out­rage Tues­day from Pales­tini­ans and com­pli­cated mat­ters for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s would-be peace en­voys as they try to restart talks.

The Pales­tini­ans called on the White House to in­ter­vene, and vis­it­ing U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res chal­lenged Ne­tanyahu’s com­ments, re­it­er­at­ing the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s op­po­si­tion to Is­raeli set­tle­ments.

Well over 100 set­tle­ments dot the West Bank and a string of U.S.-led peace plans over the past two decades have called for evac­u­at­ing at least some of them to make way for the es­tab­lish­ment of an in­de­pen­dent Pales­tinian state along­side Is­rael. Ne­tanyahu’s hard-line re­li­gious and na­tion­al­ist base op­poses such a move.

Ne­tanyahu ap­pears to have been em­bold­ened by the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who, un­like a string of pre­de­ces­sors, has not en­dorsed the idea of a two-state so­lu­tion. Trump also has sur­rounded him­self with a team of ad­vis­ers who are long­stand­ing sup­port­ers of set­tle­ments. These in­clude his son-in-law Jared Kush­ner, who is lead­ing the peace ef­forts and was in the re­gion last week for meet­ings with the sides.

Ne­tanyahu spoke at a cer­e­mony Mon­day night in Barkan, a set­tle­ment in the north­ern West Bank.

“There is a mo­men­tum of de­vel­op­ment in Judea and Sa­maria,” he said, re­fer­ring to the West Bank by its bib­li­cal name.

“We have re­turned here for eter­nity,” Ne­tanyahu added. “There will be no more up­root­ing of set­tle­ments in the land of Is­rael. Set­tle­ments will not be up­rooted.”

The Pales­tini­ans seek all of the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for an in­de­pen­dent state along­side Is­rael. Is­rael cap­tured the ar­eas in the 1967 Mideast war, though it with­drew from Gaza in 2005.

The Pales­tini­ans say that set­tle­ments on oc­cu­pied lands are il­le­gal and un­der­mine the goal of a two-state so­lu­tion by gob­bling up ter­ri­tory they seek — a po­si­tion that is widely backed by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. More than 600,000 Is­raeli Jews now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

While Ne­tanyahu has made sim­i­lar pledges be­fore, the tim­ing — on the heels of Kush­ner’s visit and with the U.N. chief in town — gave it added sig­nif­i­cance and raised ques­tions about his in­ten­tions for re­solv­ing the con­flict with the Pales­tini­ans.

With Ne­tanyahu avoid­ing talk of Pales­tinian in­de­pen­dence or a ter­ri­to­rial with­drawal, the Pales­tini­ans are push­ing the new U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion to take a stand. In par­tic­u­lar, they have been press­ing Wash­ing­ton to call for a freeze on set­tle­ment con­struc­tion and to en­dorse the two-state so­lu­tion.

Na­bil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas, de­nounced Ne­tanyahu’s com­ments.

“This is an Is­raeli mes­sage to the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion,” he said. “We call upon the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion to deal with these provo­ca­tions,” which, he said, hin­der U.S. peace ef­forts and are “an at­tempt to re­turn things to square one.”

Ne­tanyahu has been em­bold­ened by the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump.

AMOS BEN GERSHOM / GPO / GETTY IMAGES

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu (right) shakes hands Mon­day with U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res in Jerusalem. Guter­res is on a four-day visit to Is­rael.

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