US in rare rebuke of Israel over settlement law, summons ambassdor

US in rare rebuke of Israel over settlement law, summons ambassdor
Relations between the US and Israel have been tested by the establishment of Benjamin Netanyahu's new government, which includes several extreme-right figures.
2 min read
22 March, 2023
Israeli-US relations are under pressure with Netanyahu's right-wing government [Getty]

Israel's ambassador to Washington was summoned to the US State Department on Tuesday following concerns over a new settlement law that has been condemned by Palestinians.

Michael Herzog was questioned by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman just hours after the Israeli Knesset moved forward with a draft law that could see illegal settlements in the West Bank, abandoned in 2005, reoccupied.

Hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers already live in settlements and outposts in the occupied West Bank. They have been blamed for scores of attacks on Palestinians and their property.

The Israeli Knesset's rescinding of the 2005 Disengagement Law is likely to embolden the settlers and worsen conditions for Palestinians.

"The Deputy Secretary conveyed US concern regarding legislation passed by the Israeli Knesset rescinding important aspects of the 2005 Disengagement Law, including the prohibition on establishing settlements in the northern West Bank," State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said, according to Haaretz.

Such public rebukes of Israel by US officials are rare but reflect growing unease in Joe Biden's administration about the route being taken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, particularly concerning settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.

The Netanyahu government includes several far-right figures - such as Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich - who are prominent leaders of the settler movement.

Netanyahu responded to the summons by assuring the US it will not reoccupy four settlements evacuated in 2005 but did not mention other outposts his government has pledged to repopulate.  

"The government has no intention of establishing new settlements in these areas," he said on Wednesday according to The Jerusalem Post.

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This contrasted with earlier comments when the Israeli PM vowed to reactivate abandoned settlements, pledging to upturn the "discriminatory and humiliating law that prohibited Jews from living in northern Samaria", using an Israeli settler term for the Palestinian West Bank.

Israel's settlements are considered illegal under international law and are seen as a major obstacle to peace with Palestinians.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich was condemned this week for saying "there are no Palestinians" and using a map of "Greater Israel" which showed Jordan within its borders.

The extremist politician had already faced international criticism for calling for the Palestinian village of Hawara to be wiped out. The community was subjected to a harrowing pogrom by Israeli settlers earlier this month.