US conveys concerns over Israel's repeal of ban on West Bank settlements

Meeting with ambassador to Washington comes days after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich denied the existence of Palestinians

Israeli forces stand near their vehicle outside Ramallah as Palestinians protest against the repeal of a law banning settlement activity in some areas of the West Bank. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

The US has conveyed its concerns to Israel's ambassador to Washington Michael Herzog over legislation that repeals a ban on settlers from entering some northern areas of the occupied West Bank.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Mr Herzog discussed the importance of all sides “refraining from actions or rhetoric that could further inflame tensions leading into the Ramadan, Passover and Easter holidays”, the US State Department said on Tuesday.

However, Israeli Army Radio described the meeting as a “summoning”.

Former US ambassador to Israeli Martin Indyk said he did “not remember the last time” the US State Department formally summoned an Israeli ambassador.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the parliamentary decision to repeal the 2005 Disengagement Law brought to an end "a discriminatory and humiliating law that barred Jews from living in areas in northern Samaria", which it called "part of our historic homeland".

"It is no coincidence that senior figures in the opposition have supported this law over the years," Mr Netanyahu's office said on Wednesday.

However, it added that the government currently had no plans to establish new settlements in the areas.

Earlier, Washington described the Israeli move to repeal the law, prohibits the establishment of settlements in the occupied West Bank, as “provocative and counter-productive”.

Far-right Israeli Minister of National Missions Orit Strock told news website Arutz 7 on Tuesday that she thought the "sin of the disengagement" would be reversed.

“I don’t know how long it will take. Sadly, a return to the Gaza Strip will involve many casualties, just as the departure from the Gaza Strip came with many casualties. But ultimately it is part of the land of Israel, and a day will come when we will return to it,” she said.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces launched wide-ranging raids overnight in a number of occupied West Bank cities, including Ramallah, Nablus, Jericho and Bethlehem, a day before the start of Ramadan on Thursday, activists said.

Earlier this week, Israel's right-wing Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich drew international condemnation after making comments that effectively denied the existence of Palestinians.

“There are no Palestinians, because there isn't a Palestinian people,” he said on Sunday.

The US, Israel's closest ally, and the UAE condemned Mr Smotrich's comments.

Updated: March 22, 2023, 11:06 AM