Netanyahu speaks to Kerry to calm US over new settler plan

Netanyahu speaks to Kerry to calm US over new settler plan

Netanyahu speaks to Kerry to calm US over new settler plan

AP Photo

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken by phone to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a bid to calm Washington’s anger over new Israeli settlement plans, an official said yesterday.

The plan to construct what activists say amounts to a new settlement in the heart of the occupied West Bank provoked an unusually harsh response last week from the White House, which accused Israel of betraying its trust.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has accelerated its criticism of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank in recent months, warning it is destroying hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Such criticism has added to Israeli concerns Obama may seek to lay out parameters for a solution to the conflict or even support a UN Security Council resolution Israel opposes before leaving office in January.

The Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Netanyahu told Kerry the new settlement plan was intended only as an alternative “if no other solution is found” to house residents of a nearby Jewish outpost that is under a court order to be demolished.

The official said the two men also discussed regional issues but could provide no further details on their phone call. Israeli media reported that the conversation took place on Oct. 8.

The plan that provoked US anger involves 300 units in the heart of the West Bank, roughly halfway between the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Nablus.

Settlement watchdog Peace Now says the plans amount to a new settlement.  

Israeli officials dispute that and say the homes will be located in an existing settlement, although Peace Now says the site is up to two kilometers away.

Israel has so far advanced plans for 98 of the 300 units - even though only around 40 families live in the outpost, known as Amona, that must be demolished.