[time to absorb recent annexations] Israel agrees to stop authorizing West Bank settlements for six months 

AP  /  February 20, 2023

Diplomats say decision made under US pressure to forestall vote on Palestinian resolution at UN Security Council.

Israel has told the US it will rein in the approval of new West Bank settlement outposts, the prime minister’s office said Monday, a day after a potential diplomatic crisis was averted at the UN over Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not approve any new settlements in the West Bank beyond nine such outposts built without authorisation that it approved retroactively earlier this month. The statement, however, made no mention of the thousands of additional homes in existing settlements that officials say are soon to be approved.

A UN Security Council resolution put forward by the Palestinians and their supporters, scheduled for Monday, would have condemned Israel for settlement expansion and demanded a halt to future activity. According to several diplomats, US President Joe Biden’s administration managed to forestall the vote by convincing Israel and the Palestinians to agree in principle to a six-month freeze in any unilateral action they might take.

“Israel notified the US that in the coming months it will not authorise new settlements beyond the nine that have already been approved,” Mr Netanyahu’s office said.

Dozens of unauthorised outposts dot the occupied West Bank, in addition to scores of existing settlements. These outposts, which sometimes are little more than a handful of trailer homes but can also resemble small villages, are built without authorisation but are often tolerated and even encouraged by Israeli governments. The international community considers all Israeli construction on occupied land to be illegitimate or illegal.

The UN vote presented a headache for the Biden administration at a time when it is focusing its diplomatic efforts on Russia’s war with Ukraine. Mr Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Monday.

It also highlighted the deep differences between the US administration, which supports Palestinian statehood and opposes settlements, and the Israeli government, which is made up of ultranationalists who oppose Palestinian independence and have pledged to accelerate settlement building.

The pledge to hold off on approving outposts contradicts the government’s guiding principles and Mr Netanyahu could face a backlash from his far-right, pro-settler coalition partners. Construction in established settlements is expected to continue, as it has under successive Israeli governments.

Mr Netanyahu’s office also said it would continue to demolish illegally built Palestinian homes in the 60 per cent of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control. Palestinian residents in these areas say it is almost impossible to receive a building permit from Israeli authorities.

The US, along with much of the international community, say the settlements are obstacles to peace by taking over land sought by the Palestinians for their state. More than 700,000 Jewish Israelis now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem — territories captured in the 1967 war and claimed by the Palestinians.