In a move that could throw a monkey wrench into indirect peace talks, the Israeli government today announced that it was authorizing the further expansion of settlements, despite the ongoing “settlement freeze,” amounting to the creation of 112 new apartments in the occupied West Bank.
Palestinian negotiators reacted negatively to the announcement, calling it a “provocation” and urging the United States, which at one point had demanded a settlement freeze, to halt the construction.
But the US State Department showed remarkable ambivalence, particularly as the announcement comes at the dawn of what is being presented as the “last chance” for the peace process. US officials insisted that the indirect talks had already begun and warned against making the settlements an obstacle to peace.
The timing of the announcement by Israel was somewhat strange, coming just as Vice President Joe Biden arrived in the nation on a three day visit aimed at both kick-starting the peace talks and trying to convince Israel not to attack Iran. Instead of a warm welcome on the peace front, Biden will not be expected to scramble to explain away the settlement expansions.