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US ambassador to Israel rules out visits to illegal West Bank settlements

Thomas Nides said he would not travel to any West Bank settlements, as he does not want to 'aggravate people'
US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides (R) takes part in a Menorah lighting ceremony for Hanukkah in Jerusalem, on 5 December 2021 (AFP)

The US ambassador to Israel said on Monday that he would not visit any illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, but was ready to meet and speak with Israeli settlers.

Thomas Nides attempted to clarify remarks he made last month in an interview with Israeli media in which he refused outright to visit any settlements in his capacity as ambassador because it might inflame tensions.

Nides' position marks a return to the precedent set by other US ambassadors after the previous US diplomat to the country under the Trump administration, David Friedman, officially visited Israeli settlements beyond the country's pre-1967 borders.

At the time, J Street, the pro-peace US lobbying organisation, said Friedman's visit, which he claimed included meetings with Israeli and Palestinian businessmen, crossed “a major, longstanding red line of bipartisan US policy".

Previous US diplomats, including Dan Shapiro, who served as ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration, often travelled to settlements in a private capacity.

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Nides explained to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem that while he "could have been a little more artful" in his earlier comments, he said he was merely "trying not to do things that aggravate people" and that he was open to meeting with Israeli settlers.

"I will meet with anyone who wants to meet with me. Any settler who lives in a settlement wants to meet with me, come meet with me, okay," he said, adding that taking his official motorcade to a settlement would needlessly stoke controversy and that he recently went out for drinks with a right-wing rabbi who had been offended by his earlier statement.

"I try not to do symbolic things that just make things worse. My only point is I'm trying not to do things that intentionally aggravate people."

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 war and exercises full administrative control across much of the territory, where more than two million Palestinians live.

Israeli settlements in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem breach the Fourth Geneva Convention, which outlaws the transfer of a civilian population into militarily occupied areas. 

Approximately 600,000 Israelis live in 140 illegal settlements across the West Bank, which has been occupied by Israel since 1967. 

In 2020, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) published a list of 112 businesses that operate in Israeli settlements. Among these companies were Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and Motorola Solutions, which stand accused of profiting from trade with Israeli settlements. 

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