Biden quietly puts pressure on Israel over West Bank settlements

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The Biden administration is privately pressuring the Israeli government to show restraint ahead of a key decision on settlement construction in the West Bank, Israeli and US officials told Nerdshala.

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why it matters: Both sides want to prevent this from becoming a point of tension between President Biden, who sees the settlements as a threat to the two-state solution, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads a pro-settler party and has been on the issue. under political pressure. .

  • Most of the international community considers West Bank settlements illegal, and Palestinians argue that Israel is claiming more and more land that should be part of their future state.

How did this happen: Biden told Bennett at their White House meeting on August 27 that he expected Israel to show restraint on the settlements issue, and Bennett responded that Israel would only build according to needs arising from “natural development.”

  • But when he returned from Washington, Bennett told the settler leaders that when Biden pressured him on the settlers, he told them “no,” according to him. last week’s report From Times of Israel.
  • Shortly after that report, Michael Ratney, the US charge d’affaires in Jerusalem, reiterated calls for restraint to senior officials in Biden’s prime minister’s office. He also expressed particular concern about possible construction in the sensitive E1 area near Jerusalem, which could prevent regional proximity between the North and South in the West Bank.
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Backstory: Bennett wanted to take a major step forward on settlements before his visit to Washington: the approval of 2,000 new housing units in Israeli settlements and about 1,000 new housing units in Palestinian villages.

  • Instead, a strike by a labor union of a department of the Defense Ministry postponed the move.

Between the lines: Approving the new units would have been much easier before Biden had explicitly pressed Bennett on the issue. In the six weeks since the visit, the meeting to approve the housing units has not been rescheduled.

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What are they saying: A senior Israeli official told me, “There is a lot of sensitivity with the Americans right now about settlements. That is why approvals for new planning and construction in settlements are pending.”

  • A senior US official told me that the Biden administration has engaged with the Israeli government regarding settlements on a weekly basis since the meeting between Bennett and the president.
  • A US embassy spokesman declined to comment on private talks, but reiterated a call for “all sides to refrain from unilateral steps that heighten tensions and undermine efforts to advance a two-state solution.” This includes compromising activity.”
  • The prime minister’s office also said it would not comment on private talks with US officials.

This issue also needs A balancing act from Biden, who is committed to a two-state solution but would like to avoid a public fight between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu over the issue – especially as Bennett’s government remains unstable and Netanyahu is waiting in the wings. As opposition leader.

what to watch: It is not clear when the committee to approve the settlement building will be convened or whether Bennett will reduce the number of housing units for approval.

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