Israel brushes off criticism of settlement policy as U.S. assumes increasingly tough posture

The Washington Post reports: The Israeli government pushed back Thursday against the latest U.S. condemnation of its settlement enterprise as commentators called it another sign of fraying relations between the Jewish state and its most steadfast ally.

The Foreign Ministry issued a statement reacting to the unusually sharp language in the State Department’s “strong condemnation” of Israeli plans to build new settler housing “deep in the West Bank,” closer to Jordan than Israel. The Foreign Ministry said the 98 housing units approved for the Shilo area do not constitute “a new settlement.”

Ayelet Shaked, Israeli’s justice minister and a member of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, said Washington should train its condemnation on Syria “rather than criticizing where Israel builds houses.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Thursday that “we must give our lives” for the cause of annexing the West Bank to Israel.

The Israeli government’s ire was piqued by statements Wed­nesday from the White House and State Department that further ratcheted up the Obama administration’s criticism of Israel’s settlement policy.

The tone began changing late last year, when Secretary of State John F. Kerry told a gathering at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum that Israel’s settlement expansion was closing off possibilities for a two-state solution. He said Israel would not be able to maintain itself as a Jewish and democratic state if the trend continued.

Since then, in what seems a deliberate calibration, the State Department has spoken out strongly almost every time Israel has announced new housing, not only in the West Bank but also in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to have the capital of an independent state. In July, the State Department called Israeli construction over the Green Line, Israel’s pre-1967 border, “provocative and counterproductive.” In August, the White House said “significant settlement expansion” poses “a serious and growing threat to the viability of a two state solution.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition fear that between the presidential election in November and Inauguration Day, President Obama could seek a way to try to enshrine U.S. parameters for a future peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Far worse in Netanyahu’s mind would be U.S. support for a resolution along those lines in the United Nations.

“There is no doubt in Israel that Obama wants to leave a legacy,” said former Israel diplomat Jacob Dayan, who was chief of staff to two foreign ministers. “A legacy is created in two ways — a comprehensive speech on the issue, which I am sure Israel will accept because speeches are nice and memorable, but not more than that, or an American U.N. Security Council Resolution on the issue. . . . That is Israel’s biggest fear.” [Continue reading…]

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