Photo: A view of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Eli, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023
Israel has told the Biden administration it will rein in the approval of new West Bank settlement outposts, the prime minister’s office said Monday, a day after a potential diplomatic crisis was averted at the United Nations over Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not greenlight any new wildcat settlements in the West Bank beyond nine such outposts built without authorization that it approved retroactively earlier this month. The statement, however, made no mention of the thousands of additional settlement homes in existing settlements officials say are to be soon approved.
A contentious U.N. Security Council resolution pushed by the Palestinians and their supporters slated for Monday would have condemned Israel for settlement expansion and demanded a halt to future activity. According to multiple diplomats, the Biden administration managed to forestall the vote by convincing both Israel and the Palestinians to agree in principle to a six-month freeze in any unilateral action they might take.
“Israel notified the U.S. that in the coming months it will not authorize new settlements beyond the nine that have already been approved,” Netanyahu’s office said.
The Security Council unanimously approved the watered-down statement Monday.
Dozens of unauthorized outposts dot the occupied West Bank, in addition to scores of existing settlements. These outposts, which sometimes are little more than a handful of trailer homes but can also resemble small villages, are built without authorization but are often tolerated and even encouraged by Israeli governments. The international community considers all Israeli construction on occupied land to be illegitimate or illegal.
The U.N. vote presented a headache for the Biden administration at a time when it is focusing its diplomatic efforts on Russia’s war with Ukraine, which is coming up on one year this week. Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Monday.
It also highlighted the deep differences between Biden’s administration, which supports Palestinian statehood and opposes settlements, and the Israeli government, which is made up of ultranationalists who oppose Palestinian independence and have pledged to ramp up settlement building.
The pledge to hold off on approving outposts contradicts the government’s guiding principles and Netanyahu could face a backlash from his far-right, pro-settler coalition partners. Construction in established settlements is expected to continue, as it has under successive Israeli governments.
Netanyahu’s office also said it would continue to demolish illegally built Palestinian homes in the 60% of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control. Palestinian residents in these areas say it is almost impossible to receive a building permit from Israeli authorities.
The United States, along with much of the international community, say the settlements are obstacles to peace by taking over land sought by the Palestinians for their state. Over 700,000 Jewish Israelis now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories captured in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians..