settlements

Settlers hail US ambassador for saying settlements part of Israel

Settlers on Friday praised US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman for saying  settlements in the West Bank are “part of Israel” and that the two-state solution “has largely lost its meaning,” arguing that he was only describing the reality on the ground.

“Ambassador Friedman should be commended for using facts to describe the reality in Judea and Samaria,” Oded Revivi of the Yesha Council umbrella group said in a statement, referring to the West Bank by its biblical names.

During a Thursday interview broadcast on the Walla news website, Friedman was asked about his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to speculate on the Trump administration’s plans moving forward on the issue. Some of his answers largely contradicted long-held US positions and the State Department later clarified his words did not indicate a shift in policy from Washington.

“I think the settlements are part of Israel,” Friedman said. “I mean, [Israel’s] only occupying two percent of the West Bank,” he elaborated, seemingly referring to the built up area of settlements beyond the Green Line. Israel maintains civil and military control of the entirety of Area C, which makes up roughly 60% of the West Bank, and control of all the borders.

His use of “two percent” particularly angered Palestinians, who released statements blasting Friedman’s comments just hours later.

“It is not the first time that Mr. David Friedman has exploited his position as US ambassador to advocate and validate the Israeli government’s policies of occupation and annexation,” said senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who is currently in the US awaiting a lung transplant.

“His latest statement about Israel ‘occupying only 2% of the West Bank’… is not only false and misleading but contradict[s] international law, United Nations resolutions and also the historical US position,” Erekat said, adding that “Israel is internationally recognized as the occupying power over 100% of Palestine.”

But Revivi, who is vying to be the next chairman of the Yesha Council, reinforced Friedman’s comments. “All of the Israeli towns and cities plus all infrastructure, including roads, adds up to less than two percent of what is described as the West Bank,” he said.

“For decades the international community has been eating up Palestinian propaganda without checking the reality on the ground,” Revivi continued.

“I just want to be clear that our policy has not changed​,” she added, with emphasis. ​”I want to be crystal clear​.”​Friedman’s own State Department, however, rebuffed his comments. Spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters that the ambassador’s comments should “not be read as a shift in US policy.”

Far from considering settlements to be part of Israel, American foreign policy has traditionally held that Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is an obstacle to peace. Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War, and does not regard construction there as part of the settlement enterprise, has never claimed sovereignty in the West Bank.

In the Walla interview, Friedman cited UN Security Council Resolution 242, which passed in November 1967, that said a Middle East peace deal should include a withdrawal of “Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.”

A common argument made by the Israeli right-wing is that the resolution didn’t say “the territories” or “all the territory” — leaving an opening for Israel to retain parts of the land it captured.

“When Resolution 242 was adopted in 1967, it was, and remains today, the only substantive resolution that was agreed to by everybody,” Friedman told Walla. “The 1967 borders were viewed by everybody as not secure, so Israel would retain a meaningful portion of the West Bank, and it would return that which it didn’t need for peace and security.”

Referring to the two-state solution, Friedman said the concept “has largely lost its meaning, or at least has a different meaning to different people.” He argued that the term has been exploited by so many to the point where it is no longer useful.

In comments seeming to build on Friedman’s words, Revivi said, “peace is about two peoples living side-by-side and was never about ethnically cleansing Jews from Judea.”

“This Yom Kippur, it’s time the world atones for their past sins and acknowledges that our communities, where Jews and Palestinians live, drive and work alongside each other, are in fact the key to lasting peace,” he said.

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Marking 50 years of settlements, PM vows they will never be uprooted

Speaking Wednesday at a state ceremony to mark 50 years of Israeli settlements in the West Bank,  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that the Jewish communities in the territory will never be uprooted.

“Settlement is important to you in the same way that it is important to me, so I say very clearly: There will be no further uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel,” Netanyahu told the crowd at the event, which was held in the Gush Etzion bloc, a key settlement region that lies south of Jerusalem.

The prime minister was joined at the gathering by a roll call of ministers and dignitaries including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein — but no representative from the Supreme Court after its chief justice, Miriam Naor, balked at sending a representative, saying that the court should not be involved in controversial political events.

“The way to make peace is not through uprooting — not of Jews and not of Arabs,” Netanyahu said.

“We did not get peace when we uprooted settlements, we got terror and missiles and we will not do that again,” he continued, referring to Israel’s 2005 pullout from the Gaza Strip. “The Gush will always be part of the State of Israel.”

“Any territory that falls into the hands of radical Islam becomes the basis for violence, murder and death, and so we will not abandon our national home to danger,” Netanyahu said. “Instead we will strengthen our home with this momentum.”

Much of the international community views West Bank settlements as illegal and has frequently tried to pressure Israel to halt construction beyond the Green Line. The Palestinians say the settlement enterprise is one of the major obstacles to reaching a peace deal. Israel says most settlements are legal under Israeli law — though Israel has never extended its sovereignty over the West Bank.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett called at the ceremony for Israel to extend its sovereignty to the West Bank.

“I don’t take such a step lightly, in order to implement sovereignty, it takes timing and courage,” Bennett said. “There is no better time than now, as it is clear that we are here by right and not by grace.”

“There is no better time that this, even if world resists, we shall overcome it,” he added. It [the world] also understands what the Israeli public understands, the Land of Israel will never again be divided!”

Edelstein echoed Netanyahu in declaring that removing the settlements would not resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.

“It is not the uprooting of settlements that will bring peace. A [settlement construction] freeze is not the way to an agreement. For years we will continue to build and develop our ancestors’ heritage in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, in the Jordan Valley, on the Golan Heights,” he said, using the biblical names for the West Bank.

Culture Minister Miri Regev was also at the ceremony. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was absent as he was on a work trip abroad.

Naor explained her decision to cancel Justice Neal Hendel’s attendance at ceremony saying it would be inappropriate for the court to attend a political event “devoted to one side.” Her decision drew criticism from right-wing lawmakers led by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Liberman and Regev and support from opposition lawmakers including Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid.

Rights group slams Israeli banks for supporting settlements

Israeli banks are contributing to the proliferation of West Bank settlements by providing loans and mortgages for construction there, violating their human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said in a report Wednesday.

The report said that Israeli law does not require banks to provide such services to the settlements and urged them to distance themselves from such activities.

It also urged the banks’ shareholders to “ensure that their business relationships do not contribute to or benefit from” human rights violations.

Human Rights Watch said the banks have helped the expansion of the West Bank settlements, which are now home to some 400,000 Israelis. Much of the international community considers the settlements to be in contravention of international law. Israel disagrees saying the area, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, is disputed territory and the fate of the settlements must be resolved through negotiations with the Palestinians.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it had no immediate response to the report.

Sari Bashi, the group’s Israel and Palestine advocacy director, said the banks should abide by the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, a set of non-binding guidelines meant to address and remedy abuses committed in business activity, or else face action by shareholders.

“There are many, many steps banks can and should take to at the very least reduce their involvement in settlements, if not stop it entirely,” she said. “If they choose not to take steps, institutional investors who care about their own human rights activity should take action.”

Israel captured the West Bank, along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War. Israel has since annexed East Jerusalem in a move that is not recognized internationally, and it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Israel’s banks lend money to home buyers, settlement councils or to companies carrying out construction in the West Bank.

Most also have branches in settlements.

Israeli law requires banks to accept settlers as customers, meaning they cannot refuse to open accounts for them. But a legal analysis by Human Rights Watch of Israeli banking laws concluded that banks are not obligated to provide financial backing for construction in the West Bank.

While an anti-discrimination law prohibits refusal of service based on place of residence, the report said banks could cite other reasons for declining to provide loans, such as the construction’s implications for Palestinians’ human rights.

The law also allows companies to decline to serve certain areas so long as they provide advance notice to customers.

“It is Human Rights Watch’s assessment that banks can, under domestic law, avoid providing many services that support settlements and settlement activity, and that doing so is necessary to fulfill their human rights responsibilities,” the report said.

The relevant laws have yet to be challenged in court, meaning the report offers only one interpretation of how they may be read.

But the group presents a warning to Israel’s banking sector: Operating in the settlements risks inviting divestment from ethically-minded shareholders.

Bashi cited a 2016 move by the pension fund for the United Methodist Church that blocked five Israeli banks from its investment portfolio, saying they profit from rights abuses.

The Association of Banks in Israel, an umbrella group, declined to comment on the report’s claims. Spokespeople for Israel’s major banks either declined comment or referred queries to the banking association. Israel’s central bank had no immediate comment.

Human Rights Watch said the five largest banks in Israel did not respond to questions about whether they adhere to the UN guiding principles.

Four of the country’s biggest banks are members of the UN Global Compact, a group of companies that calls on its members to “make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.”

He said that private companies are not obliged under international law to restrict where they work, even if others believe the settlements are illegal. He said companies are not necessarily violating human rights if they conduct business in an area where violations are said to occur.Eugene Kontorovich, an international law expert at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative think tank, disputed the report’s claim.

“Granting a mortgage is not a human rights violation,” he said.

Settlements have grown rapidly over the decades, providing a lucrative market for bank loans and mortgages and an incentive for the banks to continue to offer funding.

Human Rights Watch has previously issued a report claiming businesses operating in the settlements contribute to Israel’s violation of human rights and has called on them to cease their activities there.

White House unfazed by Netanyahu pledge not to evacuate settlements

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to not evacuate any further Israeli settlements in the West Bank ruffled few feathers in Washington on Tuesday, with the White House saying it would not derail efforts to restart the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

On Monday, at an event celebrating 50 years of Israeli settlements in Samaria — the biblical name for the northern West Bank — Netanyahu told a crowd of thousands, “We are here to stay forever. There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel.” His speech came days after he met with a high-level White House delegation seeking to bring the sides back to the negotiating table.

“It is no secret what each side’s position is on this issue,” a senior White House official told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. “Our focus is on continuing our conversations with both parties and regional leaders to work towards facilitating a deal that factors in all substantive issues.”

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, denounced Netanyahu’s remarks and urged the Trump administration to intervene.

“This is an Israeli message to the US administration, which sought through an important tour in the area to do something in order to rescue the peace process,” he told the Associated Press. “We call upon the US administration to deal with these provocations,” which he said impede US peace efforts and are “an attempt to return things to square one.”

Last week, Abbas and Netanyahu separately met with Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, peace envoy Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell.

After the delegation met with Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, where Kushner told the prime minister that Trump is “very committed” to help broker a peace deal, Netanyahu responded by saying he believed peace with the Palestinians was “within our reach.”

Arab League chief condemns PM’s pledge to not evacuate settlements

CAIRO — Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit on Tuesday “strongly denounced” remarks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruling out any further evacuation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

“Abul Gheit considers this stance, which is utterly rejected, as something that cannot come from a person who seeks peace,” a statement from Gheit said.

At an event Monday celebrating 50 years of Israeli settlements in Samaria — the biblical name for the northern West Bank — Netanyahu told a crowd of thousands, “We are here to stay forever. There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel.”

“This is the inheritance of our ancestors,” he said. “This is our land.’

He also stressed the dangers Israel would face if it withdrew from the West Bank, a key demand of the Palestinians in any future peace deal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (r) with settler leader Yossi Dagan at event commemorating 50 years of settlement in the West Bank, August 28, 2017. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Despite settlements being one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the White House said Tuesday Netanyahu’s remarks would not derail efforts to restart the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“It is no secret what each side’s position is on this issue,” a senior White House official told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. “Our focus is on continuing our conversations with both parties and regional leaders to work towards facilitating a deal that factors in all substantive issues.”

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, denounced Netanyahu’s remarks and urged the Trump administration to intervene.

“This is an Israeli message to the US administration, which sought through an important tour in the area to do something in order to rescue the peace process,” he told the Associated Press. “We call upon the US administration to deal with these provocations,” which he said impede US peace efforts and are “an attempt to return things to square one.”

Last week, Abbas and Netanyahu separately met with Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, peace envoy Jason Greenblatt and Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell.

After the delegation met with Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, where Kushner told the prime minister that Trump is “very committed” to help broker a peace deal, Netanyahu responded by saying he believed peace with the Palestinians was “within our reach.”