Biden walks a tightrope in the Middle East: White House condemns Israel building 10,000 houses in the occupied West Bank – while State Department hints it will block U.N. resolution denouncing the move
- Israel on Sunday retroactively legalized nine settler outposts in the West Bank
- The White House said it was ‘deeply dismayed’ by such ‘unilateral’ actions
- But the State Department said a draft UN resolution was ‘unhelpful’
The White House said Thursday it was ‘deeply dismayed’ at an Israeli cabinet decision to expand settlements in the occupied West Bank.
But suggestions that President Joe Biden was signaling a harder line in dealing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were quickly complicated when the State Department said a draft United Nations resolution calling for the end of settlement activities was ‘unhelpful.’
The competing messages are the latest sign of Biden’s tightrope walk through the Middle East: Maintaining his most important relationship in the region, while nudging back on some of Netanyahu’s most troubling decisions.
The latest flashpoint came on Sunday. Israel granted retroactive approval to nine settler outposts in the West Bank and announced new home building in other areas.
‘We are deeply dismayed by Israel’s announcement that they will advance 1000s of new [homes] and retroactively legalise nine outposts in the West Bank that were until now illegal under Israeli law,’ said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
‘The United States strongly opposes these unilateral measures, which exacerbates tensions, harms trust between the parties and undermine the geographic viability of the Two State solution.’
The Sde Boaz outpost was established in 2000 and houses a population of 45 families in total. Sde Boaz is one of the nine settlements to be legalised by the Israeli cabinet in the West Bank
A Two State solution — establishing an independent Palestinian nation and a viable Israeli state — seems as far away as ever.
The past month has brought a flare-up in violence.
And Netanyahu’s new government, a far-right coalition, is accused of weakening the country’s democratic system, such as checking the Supreme Court’s ability to throw out legislation, and further enflaming the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Against that backdrop, a resolution is circulating at U.N. headquarters in New York demanding an immediate end to settlement building. It was drafted by the United Arab Emirates.
It ‘condemns all attempts at annexation, including decisions and measures by Israel regarding settlements, including settlement outposts,’ and calls for their immediate reversal, according to the Agence France Presse news agency.
The 15-member council is expected to vote on Monday.
State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said it was unhelpful.
‘Steps like settlement activity, steps like the introduction of such a resolution, are unhelpful and put us further away from a negotiated two-state solution,’ he said.
A picture taken with a drone shows the Israeli settlement of Sde Boaz, in the Gush Etzion settlement block in the West Bank, 16 February 2023
But he stopped short of saying the U.S. would wield its veto to block the resolution, as it has done with other resolutions critical of Israel.
State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel called the draft U.N. resolution and the expansion of settlements ‘unhelpful,’ but stopped short of promising a U.S. veto
‘I’m just not going to speculate or hypothesize on the process,’ he told reporters in Washington.
Most world powers consider Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem illegal. Israel disputes that and cites biblical, historical and political links to the West Bank, as well as security interests.
Sarah Leah Whitson, the head of DAWN human rights group, tweeted: ‘The single biggest foreign policy blunder POTUS can make right now is vetoing the proposed UNSC resolution demanding Israel halt its expansion of illegal settlements, war crimes under international law.’