Knesset Committee To US Ambassador: Jewish Construction In The West Bank ‘should Continue’
The chair of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee told U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides that settlement expansion would continue, despite Washington’s objections.
Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, the former Knesset speaker who now heads the pivotal committee, held an introductory meeting with Nides on Wednesday.
“I expressed to the ambassador my clear position regarding the need for construction in the areas of settlement in Judea and Samaria,” said Edelstein, a longtime resident of Gush Etzion. “The families there are developing, and it’s impossible to put their lives on hold. Construction should continue.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently laid out the new government’s guiding principles, including a statement that the Jewish people have “an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel.”
Coalition agreements include a pledge to expand Jewish building in the Western Bank and to apply Israeli sovereignty over substantial portions of the territory, though the language of the provision gives Netanyahu wiggle room to avoid taking such steps if necessary.
On Tuesday, Nides told the Kan public broadcaster that Netanyahu understands Washington’s position of maintaining the possibility of a two-state solution, in addition to its opposition to “legalizing outposts and massive settlement expansion.”
Edelstein and Nides discussed a number of issues related to bilateral ties between their countries, and the need to strengthen the relationship despite “the possibility of differences of opinion between friends,” according to a Knesset statement.
Among the topics of discussion were regional status and threats, further Israeli-Arab normalization potential and cooperation at the United Nations. Additionally, Edelstein and Nides spoke about Israel’s relationship with the Palestinian Authority.
“We both agreed that the most important issue is the Iranian one, and we expressed our mutual commitment to handling and managing this acute crisis,” Edelstein said.
He also told Nides that Israel is committed to upholding the status quo at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Nides was critical of a visit to Judaism’s holiest site last week by Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, saying in a statement that he had “been very clear in conversations with the Israeli government on the issue of preserving the status quo in Jerusalem’s holy sites” and that “actions that prevent [the preservation of the status quo] are unacceptable.”
He struck a different tone on Tuesday though, saying that Netanyahu “has said over and over again that he is not going to allow for the status quo to change at the Temple Mount. And we take him at his word.”
Nides said earlier this week that he takes Netanyahu’s pledge to maintain the status quo at face value. Ben-Gvir’s visit, though controversial based on his advocacy for increased Jewish rights at the Temple Mount, was within the bounds of the status quo, as he visited within the limited time allowed for Jews, quietly walked along an approved route and did not pray.
Washington, Ramallah, Amman and other capitals were nevertheless critical, with some claiming the visit as a provocation, and others exaggerating the circumstances—including accusations that Ben-Gvir “stormed” the compound, which also serves as home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.
Edelstein called for the P.A. to be reprimanded for claiming Ben-Gvir’s visit violated the status quo. The P.A. has been accused by Israel in the past of inflaming tensions and inciting violence with claims of Israeli incursions into Al Aqsa.
Also, during the Wednesday meeting, Edelstein said he and Nides discussed the Iranian nuclear threat. “We both agreed that the most important issue is the Iranian one, and we expressed our mutual commitment to handling and managing this acute crisis.”
Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate.
(Additional reporting provided by Alberto Arellano)