The Cable

White House “regrets” Israeli settlement construction reports

The White House has responded to Israeli media reports today that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to approve a wave of settlement construction before any settlement freeze comes into place. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement: We regret the reports of Israel’s plans to approve additional settlement construction.  Continued settlement activity is ...

The White House has responded to Israeli media reports today that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to approve a wave of settlement construction before any settlement freeze comes into place. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement:

We regret the reports of Israel’s plans to approve additional settlement construction.  Continued settlement activity is inconsistent with Israel’s commitment under the Roadmap.

As the President has said before, the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion and we urge that it stop.  We are working to create a climate in which negotiations can take place, and such actions make it harder to create such a climate.

We do appreciate Israel’s stated intent to place limits on settlement activity and will continue to discuss this with the Israelis as these limitations are defined.

The U.S. commitment to Israel’s security is and will remain unshakeable.  We believe it can best be achieved through comprehensive peace in the region, including a two-state solution with a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel.

That is the ultimate goal to which the President is deeply and personally committed.

Our objective remains to resume meaningful negotiations as soon as possible in pursuit of this goal.  We are working with all parties – Israelis, Palestinians, and Arab states — on the steps they must take to achieve that objective.   

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who met with Netanyahu in London last week and with Netanyahu advisors in New York this week, had been due to go to Israel this coming week for more meetings. It’s unclear if Mitchell would delay or cancel the trip.

Mitchell briefed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the status of his talks in a meeting yesterday.  "I think the United States is looking to create the conditions that allow negotiation, formal negotiations, to begin," spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday. "We hope to reach that point and the end of this particular phase of the process in the next few weeks.  But beyond that, where we are in the process, I think we … have made progress.  But, obviously, there is still work to be done."

UPDATE: The latest settlements dust up took up the bulk of the State Department press briefing today, with spokesman Ian Kelly emphasizing frank and open discussions with Washington’s Israeli partners.

Kelly: "What I’ll say in response to that is that we have had a very open dialogue with our Israeli partners. And Senator Mitchell on multiple occasions has had a thorough discussion of all of these issues. We’ve made our position quite clear. Our position is that all sides have to abide by their obligations under the Roadmap. And of course, for the Israelis, that means a stop to settlement activity; for Palestinians, it means increasing confidence in their ability to handle their own security; and for the Arab states, it means taking steps towards normalization of their relationship with Israel. And you saw the statement out of the White House that we regret that they are planning to do this."

Kelly said that Mitchell still plans to travel to Israel to discuss the issue further towards the end of next week.

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