Obama administration: Still a ‘big no’ on supporting settlement building

WASHINGTON (JTA) – The Obama administration is standing by its “big no” when it comes to supporting any new settlement building in Israel, a spokesman said.

“I can be very clear that we’re not changing – again, we’re not changing – the decades-old U.S. policy regarding settlements,” Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, said Tuesday when asked at the daily briefing about reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded recognition of Israel’s right to build in the West Bank in exchange for granting Palestinians the same right.

“Every U.S. administration since 1967, Democrat and Republican alike, has opposed Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines, and this administration’s been no different and will be no different,” Toner said.

“The U.S. government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them, and by extension does not pursue policies that would legitimize them. And administrations of both parties have long recognized that settlement activity and efforts to change the facts on the ground undermine the goal of a two-state solution.”

Asked by a reporter if that was a “big no,” Toner said, “That’s a big no.”

Toner would not characterize the specifics of the meeting Monday between Netanyahu and Secretary of State John Kerry. Israeli media have reported that Kerry asked Netanyahu to institute reforms that would help quell the recent intensification of violence in the West bank, among them granting Palestinians in the area building permits.

According to these reports, Netanyahu asked in return for U.S. recognition of Israel’s right to build within settlement blocs that Israel believes it will keep as part of a final-status agreement.

Regarding reports of Kerry’s request to allow Palestinian building, Toner said, “We’ve been very clear not to get into specifics of some of the confidence-building measures or some of the efforts that we want to see, affirmative actions that we want to see both sides take. But we’ve been very clear that we want to see tensions de-escalated. And we’ve suggested some of the steps that Israel might take, but I’m not going to confirm that that was one of them.”

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