Such a call to order is rare. It is unprecedented under the Biden presidency, until then rather accommodating with the coalition of conservatives, religious and ultranationalists in power in Israel. On Tuesday evening, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Michael Herzog, was summoned for an interview with the undersecretary of state, Wendy Sherman.
Hours earlier, under cover of darkness, Israel’s parliament amended the 2005 Disengagement Law that framed Israel’s evacuation from the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of four small settlements in the northern occupied West Bank. . The new amendment, tabled by Yuli Edelstein, deputy of Likud, the party of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and approved by only 31 elected officials out of 120, lifts the ban on Israelis from accessing the evacuated areas of the West Bank. However, they do not have the right to settle there.
The victory is highly symbolic for the settler movement, which was waiting for its revenge, more than seventeen years after the 2005 evacuations. Voted in the wake of the Israeli-Palestinian meeting organized on Sunday March 19 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, under the aegis of the United States, with the aim of reducing tensions in the West Bank, the amendment was judged “particularly provocative and counterproductive” by the State Department. At this meeting, the Israelis pledged to “to stop discussing the establishment of new settlement units for four months and not to legalize savage settlements for six months”.
Washington fears that its already inconclusive mediation efforts, backed by Egypt and Jordan, will collapse for good as violence continues to escalate in the West Bank. In the Israeli daily Ha’aretzthe former American ambassador to Tel Aviv Daniel Kurtzer, in office from 2001 to 2005, lambasted “a tendency of Israel to renege on its commitments with the United States which is just extraordinary”.
The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for its part, condemned a “decision which is contrary to international law, has serious consequences and can only fuel tensions”. Faced with the salvo, Mr. Netanyahu’s office issued a press release on Wednesday morning, welcoming the new legislation but reiterating that “the government has no intention of establishing new communities in these areas”. Wednesday evening, however, Jerusalem Post reported that some 150 settlers had moved to the site of one of the former settlements, Homesh, access to which is believed to be controlled by a military checkpoint.
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