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US secretary of state: US views settlements as “illegitimate.”
WASHINGTON — Speaking during a press availability with the foreign minister of Brazil, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that he and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas had known for some time that new Israeli settlement construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank would be announced.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu was completely upfront with me and with President Abbas that he would be announcing some additional building that would take place in places that will not affect the peace map, that will not have any impact on the capacity to have a peace agreement,” Kerry said.
“That means that it is building within the so-called blocs in areas that many people make a presumption – obviously not some Palestinians or others – will be part of Israel in the future,” Kerry added. “He has specifically agreed not to disturb what might be the potential for peace going forward.”
Israel in recent days has announced tenders for or advanced the planning process on about 3,100 housing units in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas Palestinians claim for their own independent state.
Kerry made clear that settlements at any time, and not just during the peace process, were considered illegitimate by the United States.
“There are realities within life in Israel that also have to be taken into account here going forward,” Kerry said. “President Abbas understood that coming into these talks.”
Kerry and Abbas had a phone call scheduled for this afternoon.
The chief negotiator for Palestine Saeb Erekat voiced surprise when the Israeli settlements were announced.
“If the Israeli government believes that every week they’re going to cross a red line by settlement activity … what they’re advertising is the unsustainability of the negotiations,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Sunday.
Kerry has set a nine-month deadline for the peace talks, which he hopes will spur the two parties to negotiate in earnest and with haste.
“Our hope is that we get to the real issues on which we ought to be focusing, which are the final status settlement – the final status issues,” Kerry added. “I’m very hopeful we will get there very, very soon.”
“It demonstrated a willingness by Prime Minister Netanyahu to make tough decisions when he determines they are in the best interests of the Israeli people,” a US official told The Jerusalem Post. “The release of prisoners by the Israeli government is a very difficult but necessary step to give peace negotiations a chance.”
Netanyahu has agreed to the staggered release of 104 Palestinian prisoners, many convicted of murder. The first 26 are due to go free early on Wednesday, and political analysts say the recent splurge of settlement moves was a bid by Netanyahu to placate his legion of supporters who reject the so-called two-state solution.
Reuters contributed to this report.