The White House issued the strongest condemnation anyone can remember of a new Israeli settlement, as “deeply troubling” and “disheartening” and a violation of Israel’s promises. The statement from the State Department’s Mark Toner on Wednesday reads a bit more like an angry rant than a statement– he points out that the U.S. just gave Israel a $38 billion aid package, and this is how you thank us. He also says the announcement dishonors Shimon Peres’s legacy and reveals Israel’s determination to cement the “one-state reality of perpetual occupation.”
About time, you might say. With just 100 days or so left in the Obama administration… And no need to raise money from the Israel lobby.
This is a settlement being built for the families of Amona, an existing settlement deep in the West Bank that Israeli authorities acknowledged was built on Palestinian-owned land. The UN condemned the new settlement yesterday. Here is the statement from State:
Approval of New West Bank Settlement
We strongly condemn the Israeli government’s recent decision to advance a plan that would create a significant new settlement deep in the West Bank.
Proceeding with this new settlement, which could include up to 300 units, would further damage the prospects for a two state solution. The retroactive authorization of nearby illegal outposts, or redrawing of local settlement boundaries, does not change the fact that this approval contradicts previous public statements by the Government of Israel that it had no intention of creating new settlements. And this settlement’s location deep in the West Bank, far closer to Jordan than Israel, would link a string of outposts that effectively divide the West Bank and make the possibility of a viable Palestinian state more remote.
It is deeply troubling, in the wake of Israel and the U.S. concluding an unprecedented agreement on military assistance designed to further strengthen Israel’s security, that Israel would take a decision so contrary to its long term security interest in a peaceful resolution of its conflict with the Palestinians. Furthermore, it is disheartening that while Israel and the world mourned the passing of President Shimon Peres, and leaders from the U.S. and other nations prepared to honor one of the great champions of peace, plans were advanced that would seriously undermine the prospects for the two state solution that he so passionately supported.
Israelis must ultimately decide between expanding settlements and preserving the possibility of a peaceful two state solution. Since the recent Quartet report called on both sides to take affirmative steps to reverse current trends and advance the two state solution on the ground, we have unfortunately seen just the opposite. Proceeding with this new settlement is another step towards cementing a one-state reality of perpetual occupation that is fundamentally inconsistent with Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. Such moves will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from many of its partners, and further call into question Israel’s commitment to achieving a negotiated peace.
The White House also slammed the Israelis. At his press briefing yesterday, Josh Earnest all but accused Netanyahu of betraying the Obama administration, just when it signed the new aid deal and everyone was mourning Shimon Peres. The announcement did “provoke strong feelings,” Earnest said:
we did receive public assurances from the Israeli government that contradict this announcement. And that’s — I guess when we’re talking about how good friends treat one another, that that’s a source of serious concern, as well.
This is the second time in a week, the White House has growled at Israel. The first time was when the White House issued a transcript of President Obama’s speech at the Shimon Peres funeral, mistakenly datelined Jerusalem, Israel, and an hour later or so reissued it with the word Israel crossed out. Because the U.S. does not recognize the annexation of Jerusalem.
Settlement-watcher Daniel Seidemann says there’s a new, angry theme in today’s announcement: “The United States addresses Israel’s security interests as never before – Netanyahu responds by undermining those interests.”
There was extended conversation about the statement at the State Department yesterday. Most of it involved the fact that this has long been U.S. policy, and the only action here is to make Israel “feel bad.” When are you actually going to do something about these violations of policy; and why are we giving the Israelis money when they do this to us?
QUESTION: Okay. So your comment just now, does that – that’s an acknowledgement from the Administration that you have no leverage with Israel, despite the fact that you give them billions of dollars every year? You just said that that your words have no effect. So is – are you acknowledging or is the Administration acknowledging that it doesn’t have any sway, any pull with Israel?
MR TONER: What I would say is – and it’s important that we continue to convey to Israel – when we see actions that we believe are counter to Israel’s long-term security interests and counter to their stated goal of pursuing a two-state solution. And when we see that, we’re going to call it like we see it and we’re going to convey that.
QUESTION: But you don’t actually expect them to do anything about it. Is that —
MR TONER: I can’t speak for what – whether their behavior is going to change or how their behavior is going to change.
QUESTION: No, I mean the Administration. You say these things but you don’t actually expect them to act on them?
MR TONER: Well, of course. We wouldn’t say them unless we were mindful and hopeful that they would absorb them and act in a way that was consistent with, as I said, their long-term interests and, frankly, in the long – in the even short to midterm goal of creating the kind of climate on the ground that is – would even lead to the possibility of negotiations and a two-state solution.
QUESTION: Well, since you – since you started, since the United States starting – started opposing this kind of activity decades ago —
MR TONER: And you’re right, decades ago in —
MR TONER: — Republican and —
QUESTION: Under both administrations.
MR TONER: — as I’d say.
QUESTION: Yes, yes, I know. You read through the whole thing. Has it ever – have you ever seen – have you ever had any success?… I realize there have been short-term freezes, but it just seems to me that if you feel —
MR TONER: There have been short-term freezes.
QUESTION: — this strongly about it to come out with a statement like this that talks about the MOU that was just signed and President Peres’s death – if you come out with a statement that strong, don’t – I mean, don’t you expect it to have some kind of an effect?
MR TONER: Yes, we do.
QUESTION: You clearly feel strongly about it.
MR TONER: Of course we do.
QUESTION: But you – you do expect it to have some kind of effect, but you know that it won’t?
MR TONER: You’re saying that – I was simply responding to your question that we don’t have – we’re not going to take any action. What I was trying to make clear —
QUESTION: Is that correct? You’re not going to do anything?
MR TONER: Well, again, we – our action is that —
QUESTION: Other than trying to make them feel bad?
MR TONER: No, but our action is that we convey to them both publicly and privately and to the world when we see Israel conducting itself in a way that runs counter to its security interests.
QUESTION: Isn’t it time for Secretary Kerry or for President Obama to be using the kind of language that you’re using from the podium today?
MR TONER: Well, there have been times in the past when it has come – these kinds of words have come from either Secretary Kerry or President Obama, and the message is always the same, which is we view settlements as counterproductive and counter to Israel’s interests…
QUESTION: Why not go to the Security Council or the United Nation, where you can have an international – some sort of a decision that can impose sanctions. I mean, you’ve imposed sanctions on others that, basically, do not adhere to international law by any measure.
MR TONER: I mean, look, with regard to the UN Security Council and any action at the UN, our position hasn’t changed. We’re always concerned, frankly, about one-sided resolutions or other actions that could be taken within the UN, and we’re always going to oppose those kinds of resolutions that we believe delegitimize Israel’s – Israel and undermine its security. But we’re going to carefully consider our future engagement, if and when we reach that point, and determine how to most effectively pursue and advance the objective that we all at least claim to share, which is that of achieving a negotiated two-state solution. That work is going to continue with our international partners and we’re going to continue to make clear when we have concerns, such as we do today, with regard to Israel’s actions. We’re going to make those concerns clear to the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: But you have done that time and time again. I mean, obviously, you believe that Israel is addicted to the expansion of settlements…. [Y]ou keep saying that the UN is a forum that is somehow inherently opposed to Israel, while in fact, it was created through that UN organization. But let me ask you this: I mean, if it’s – this is in occupied territory, which you acknowledge, and there are laws that pertain to what is – what is the occupying power’s rights and privileges or obligations under international law, why not push forward, put your weight behind what is internationally lawful in this case, and bringing Israel to bear on these issues – holding it to account?
MR TONER: Look, I’m just going to say we’re working on this bilaterally. We’re working with other international partners. We’re just not convinced that the UN is the right venue for that.
QUESTION: My last one.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: You said that “when the time comes.” When will the time come? When do you – in your opinion? When no longer there is any kind of land to establish a Palestinian state on? Is that, like, maybe at 10 percent more of the land? 20 percent more of the land?
MR TONER: Well, and – Said, we said as much in the statement that was issued, that it’s getting to the point, especially given the geographic location of this latest settlement announcement where a Palestinian – a viable Palestinian state becomes increasingly difficult to imagine.