US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday while in Brazil that both he and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas knew in advance about Israel’s new settlement construction plans that were announced this week.
The Israeli Housing and Construction Ministry issued tenders on Sunday for the construction of more than 1,000 new housing units in eastern and northern Jerusalem amid vocal U.S. opposition to construction beyond the pre-1967 lines.
“We had a very frank and open, direct discussion about the question of settlements,” Kerry told reporters at a press conference, a transcript of which was released by the US State Department.
“Let me make it clear: The policy of the United States of America with respect to all settlements is that they are illegitimate, and we oppose settlements taking place at any time, not just the time of the peace process. But – here’s the but – that said, 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. He has specifically agreed not to disturb what might be the potential for peace going forward,” he said.
The Israeli Housing and Construction Ministry said 400 apartments will be marketed in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, as well as an additional 210 apartments in the nearby Homat Shmuel neighborhood and another 183 in Pisgat Zeev, for a total of 793 new housing units in Jerusalem. A further 117 housing units will be built in Ariel, as will 149 in Efrat, 92 in Maaleh Adumim and 36 in Beitar.
“Now, we still believe it would be better not to be doing it, but there are realities within life in Israel that also have to be taken into account here going forward. President Abbas understood that coming into these talks. That’s why these talks are pressed into this time period of nine months. That’s why we all understand there is urgency, as I said yesterday, to getting to the discussion of borders and security. If you resolve the borders of Israel – and you can only do that also resolving the security issues for Israel – you have resolved any questions about settlements, because then you know what is in Israel and what is not. And so the sooner we get to that discussion the better,” Kerry said.
Kerry said Abbas “is committed to continue to come to this negotiation, because he believes the negotiation is what will ultimately resolve this issue, not a temporary decision or restraint. So we will continue to work this very, very closely with Israelis and we will continue to work it very closely with Palestinians. And 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. And I’m very hopeful we will get there very, very soon.”
The negotiations resume Wednesday in Jerusalem, under a noted media blackout to allow space for each side to discuss trade-offs without immediately answering to public opinion. Meanwhile, an agenda for the meetings was leaked to the Palestine Today newspaper, reportedly by Gaza based Palestinian terror group Hamas, which is not party to today’s talks.