Oct 26, 2021 - World

Scoop: Biden administration objects to Israeli settlements plan

Israeli PM Naftali Bennett (L) meets with Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool/AFP via Getty

The Biden administration has privately protested to the Israeli government over its plan to approve the planning and construction of more than 3,000 new housing units in the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: The approvals for new homes in the settlements will be the first since President Biden assumed office, and come after Biden and his top aides personally pressed Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to restrain settlement activity and decrease the number of new housing units.

  • There was a delay in the approval process after Bennett's visit to Washington in late August, but the Israeli Ministry of Defense ultimately announced its intention to approve even more new housing units than had previously been planned.

Behind the scenes: After that announcement, the top U.S. diplomat in Jerusalem, Michael Ratney, called Bennett’s foreign policy adviser Shimrit Meir to complain about the move, in a call the sources described as "difficult."

  • Ratney said the U.S. objected in particular to the fact that most of the new housing units are in isolated settlements deep in the West Bank.

After the private message, the Biden administration criticized the Israeli move publicly but in a much lower tone.

  • We are concerned about the announcement of a meeting next week to advance settlement units deep in the West Bank, and believe it is critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tension and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution," State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday.
  • The State Department and Israeli Prime Minister's Office both declined to comment on private conversations.
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