Settlement News to Wait Until Kerry Leaves Israel
ISABEL KERSHNER. New York times. WEDNESDAY January 1, 2014
JERUSALEM — The Israeli government will delay an expected announcement of bids for new settlement construction for the next few days while Secretary of State John Kerry is in the region, an Israeli official said Wednesday, avoiding a potential high-profile clash over the contentious issue.
Mr. Kerry is scheduled to arrive here on Thursday and to stay at least until Sunday on what will be his 10th visit to the Middle East as secretary of state in a push to advance difficult Israeli-Palestinian talks.
“We will respect John Kerry and not act to spite him,” the Israeli official said, adding that there was an understanding between the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Housing Ministry that no bids would be published until Mr. Kerry had gone.
When it comes to settlement building, “a day here or there makes no difference,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate diplomacy around the issue.
Palestinian leaders have condemned Israel’s repeated announcements of new construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories that Israel seized from Jordan in the 1967 war and that the Palestinians view as part of their future state. The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, says the settlement activity undermines any chance of peace, and Palestinian leaders say they plan to fight it in the International Criminal Court should the peace talks fail. Most of the world considers the settlements illegal under international law.
The Obama administration considers settlements illegitimate and an obstacle to peace.
Relations between Mr. Netanyahu and Washington have often been tense. In an episode in March 2010 that particularly enraged the White House, Israel’s Interior Ministry announced 1,600 new housing units for Jews in Ramat Shlomo, an ultra-Orthodox area of East Jerusalem, while Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was visiting Israel.
More recently, Mr. Netanyahu has made a point of tying settlement announcements to the release of Palestinian prisoners in an effort to appease his right-wing coalition members. Israel agreed to release 104 long-serving prisoners, many convicted of deadly attacks on Israelis, in four groups as part of an American-brokered deal to resume the peace talks. The Palestinians have been infuriated by the linkage between the releases and the announcements and Israeli suggestions that they agreed to such a deal.
The third prisoner release took place early Tuesday, and in the prelude Mr. Netanyahu came under intense international pressure not to upset the peace talks by making another simultaneous settlement announcement. But Mr. Netanyahu, apparently angered by a string of attacks on Israelis in the past few weeks and a lack of any condemnation of them by Palestinian leaders, decided to go ahead. A week ago, Israeli officials said that an announcement of new settlement building could be expected around the time of the prisoner release, without specifying exactly when.
Xavier Abu Eid of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s negotiations unit said that Israel was “under an obligation to cease all settlement activities, not for one or two days, but forever.” He said a delay of a few days might avoid embarrassing Mr. Kerry during his visit but would not help Palestinians or the peace process.