APN, J Street back White House on settlement freeze


Americans for Peace Now and J Street have issued statements backing the White House in its criticism of Israel in the wake of reports that it plans a barrage of new home approvals before a settlement freeze kicks in in October:

For Immediate Release
September 4, 2009

Today, J Street Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami released the following statement:

J Street is deeply dismayed by reports of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s planned approval of additional settlement construction in the West Bank.

We share President Obama’s concern that continued settlement growth will make it impossible to achieve a negotiated, peaceful two-state solution to the conflict, which is critical to Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic homeland.

It is only with the establishment of permanent and recognized borders as part of a comprehensive peace agreement that we best serve the long-term interests of Israel,
the Palestinians and the United States.

As the United States works to re-launch negotiations, we urge all sides to support these efforts by fulfilling their obligations – including an Israeli settlement freeze, Palestinian steps to end incitement and violence, and Arab moves toward normalization with Israel.  When any side takes unilateral steps that undermine US efforts to resolve the conflict, they not only hinder the chances of peace and their own interests, but also hurt American credibility and interests in the region.

President Obama’s efforts to halt Israeli settlement construction and restart talks have widespread support in the American Jewish community.  Some 60 percent of American Jews strongly oppose the expansion of settlements, recognizing such actions as detrimental to peace efforts.  69 percent of American Jews firmly support active American engagement in bringing about a two-state solution and regional, comprehensive peace, even if it means publicly disagreeing with or pushing both sides to fulfill their obligations under the Road Map.

APN spokesman Ori Nir, also on Sept. 4:

Yesterday, aides to Binyamin Netanyahu told the media that the Israeli prime minister will approve building hundreds of new homes in West Bank settlements before he considers a settlement freeze. Early today, the White House issued a stern message telling Bibi that he cannot have the cake and eat it too.

“We regret the reports of Israel’s plans to approve additional settlement construction. Continued settlement activity is inconsistent with Israel’s commitment under the Roadmap,” The White House statement says. “As the President has said before, the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion and we urge that it stop.  We are working to create a climate in which negotiations can take place, and such actions make it harder to create such a climate.”

This is an unusually harsh message. We are told that it reflects the growing level of frustration in the Obama administration with Netanyahu’s manipulation of the media to both depict the nature of his government’s negotiations with the administration over a settlement freeze and to influence these talks.

Netanyahu, under growing pressure from the more extreme right flank of his Likud party, is eager to show that he is not bending under U.S. pressure. His aides told reporters that the U.S. has agreed to the completion of 2,500 previously approved housing units in the settlements and that he intends to approve more before he agrees to a freeze. The U.S. reportedly does not accept this large number and definitely does not accept the approval of more settlement construction projects.

According to Peace Now, if construction of this large number of homes in the settlements continues, the freeze will be merely “virtual.”

A set of understandings between the governments of Israel and the U.S. is near. Most likely, the understandings will include some areas of disagreements.

What is clear is that the Obama administration will not be the first American administration to officially sanction Israeli construction in West Bank settlement. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion,” the White House made clear today.

We commend the White House for setting the record straight. We also reiterate that a settlement freeze is not just in the interest of the United States. First and foremost, it is in the national security interest of Israel. Settlements are detrimental to Israel. They constitute a burden to Israel’s security services. They create points of friction between Israelis and Palestinians. They drain Israel’s financial resources. They create an impression that Israelis are not interested in a two-state solution.

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