Israel rejects Obama's call to halt settlement activity in West Bank
JERUSALEM - Israel will not heed President Obama's powerful appeal to halt all settlement activity on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state, officials said yesterday, a position that looks sure to cause a policy clash with its most important ally.
The government plans to allow construction inside existing West Bank settlements to accommodate for growing families, said the officials.
In an address to the Muslim world in Cairo on Thursday, Obama said the United States does not recognize the legitimacy of the settlements and called on Israel to halt construction. Obama also appealed to the Palestinians to renounce violence.
During a visit to Germany yesterday, Obama renewed his call for Israel to halt settlement activity in the West Bank, saying that he recognized the politics involved in Israel that made it difficult to accomplish this task. He also pressed his call for the creation of an independent Palestinian state, saying: "The moment is now for us to act."
Both positions are in conflict with Israel's new leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, who refuses to endorse Palestinian statehood or accept a settlement freeze.
Israel issued a carefully worded response hours after Obama's Cairo speech saying it hoped his words would help usher in a "new period of reconciliation" in the Middle East. The response left out any reference to settlements or other issues that are putting Israel at odds with Washington.
The government officials said that instead of halting all settlement activity, Israel planned to take down 22 unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank in the coming weeks.
That balancing act - taking down outposts while pressing ahead with so-called natural growth construction in the settlements - may not go over well in Washington.
US officials have made it clear they want all settlement activity to stop, without exception.
Most likely, Netanyahu will be forced to choose between going along with Obama's Mideast vision, and risk a crisis in his rightist governing coalition, or rejecting it, and risk alienating Israel's most important ally.
"Benjamin Netanyahu will have to come to a decision soon. It's either 'yes' to Obama or 'no' to Obama," columnist Ben Caspit wrote in the Israeli daily Maariv yesterday.
So far there is little indication Netanyahu will answer "yes."
"With all due respect to President Obama, and there is respect, and to the deep friendship between Israel and the United States, no foreign leader of another country will set policy in Judea and Samaria," lawmaker Ofir Akonis of Netanyahu's Likud Party told Army Radio. Judea and Samaria are the Hebrew terms used for the West Bank.