'Israel must remove 23 outposts'
By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, JPOST CORRESPONDENT
P.J. Crowley: "we expect [Israel] to fulfill responsibilities.”
WASHINGTON – The US pushed back against indications Israel has abandoned its commitment to take down authorized outposts Thursday, calling on Jerusalem to live up to its obligations.
“The Israeli government has pledged to take specific actions,” US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. “They have responsibilities and we would expect them to fulfill those responsibilities.”
Earlier this week, The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has no intention in the foreseeable future of dismantling any of 23 unauthorized West Bank outposts built after March 2001, despite a 2002 road map commitment and years of pledges by successive prime ministers including Binyamin Netanyahu.
The promise to dismantle the outposts was made in the framework of wider understandings with the second Bush administration that provided for continued home-building at settlements Israel is likely to retain under a permanent accord with the Palestinians.
Israeli officials told the Post that since the Obama administration replaced those wider understandings with a demand for a moratorium on all new home-building throughout the settlements – which was accepted by Netanyahu in November – Israel no longer regards itself as having to go through with the outpost demolitions on the basis of that pledge to the US.
Crowley, though, indicated the US sees the matter differently since it believes Israel still needs to keep its commitment.
He also said that “the parties need to take affirmative steps that create an improved atmosphere for negotiations to proceed and they need to avoid actions which inhibit progress, and certainly settlements are a contentious issue.”
He added that settlements, along with borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem, were final-status issues that needed to be resolved in those negotiations.
“We’re pushing hard to get them into proximity talks as soon as possible that we hope will lead to direct negotiations,” Crowley said.
State Department officials, however, are denying a report in a Roger Cohen column in The New York Times this week that the US administration had presented the Palestinians with a letter promising an intense effort to produce a Palestinian state in two years, accompanied by a pledge – if Israel seriously undermines trust between the two parties – to withhold its veto from a Security Council resolution condemning Israel.
Instead, they pointed to building momentum and US Middle East envoy George Mitchell’s plans to return to the region at the beginning of next week.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.
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