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Netanyahu seeks to pacify US concerns over settlement repeal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appeared to back down, saying his government has ″no intention” of returning to four abandoned settlements in the occupied West Bank under a law that was repealed by parliament this week.

His statement on Wednesday followed harsh US criticism and an international uproar over Netanyahu’s government, the country’s most far-right ever, over the Knesset vote early Tuesday to revoke a 2005 law that dismantled the four settlements.

The Biden administration summoned Israel’s ambassador in Washington hours after the vote – a rare rebuke between the allies. Jordan’s parliament meanwhile, in a largely symbolic vote, approved the expulsion of Israel’s envoy over the conduct of a firebrand minister.

Netanyahu’s office said the parliamentary vote scraps “a discriminatory and humiliating law, that prohibited Jews from living in areas in northern Samaria,” using the biblical name for the occupied West Bank.

“Having said that, the government has no intention of establishing new communities in these areas,” the statement added.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman expressed America’s concern to Israeli Ambassador Michael Herzog in Washington over the Knesset’s vote. Just days earlier, Israel had pledged not to approve new settlement construction or take unilateral actions.

Israel annuls law that banned four occupied West Bank settlements

Tensions during Ramadan

Critics fear the vote could clear the way for rebuilding the four settlements, abandoned nearly 20 years ago when Israeli forces pulled out of Gaza, and further set back Palestinian hopes for statehood.

Sherman and Herzog discussed “the importance of all parties refraining from actions or rhetoric that could further inflame tensions leading into the Ramadan, Passover, and Easter holidays,” the US State Department said.

Pressure against Israel’s new government mounted further Wednesday as the Jordanian parliament voted to expel Israel’s ambassador over Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s speech at a podium adorned with a map of Israel that purported to include Jordan. 

Expanding illegal West Bank settlements is Netanyahu’s govt top priority

The incident over the weekend, the parliament in Amman said, “reflects Israeli arrogance that does not respect international treaties and covenants.”

US criticism

President Joe Biden expressed his concern to Netanyahu during a phone call Sunday about the new government’s judicial reform plan. Following the Knesset vote, the State Department said it was “extremely troubled” and urged Israel to refrain from allowing settlers to return to the vacated areas.

However, Orit Strock – a Cabinet minister, member of the far-right Religious Zionism party and a West Bank settler – dismissed the US criticism, telling Army Radio that both sides “need to know how to accept these opinions and move forward in friendship.” Strock also gave an interview to the settler station Arutz 7 in which she expressed hope that Israel would one day “retake Gaza” as well.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid suggested on Kan radio on Wednesday that the new government has squandered a measure of goodwill with the US.

It has “managed to destroy one of the greatest strategic assets we’ve ever had,” Lapid said. 

Why is Israel trying to dilute 2005 law that protected Palestinian land?

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