Israeli ambassador: Settlements opposed by US could be bargaining chip

Israel's ambassador to the United States suggested Sunday that new settlements approved on the outskirts of Jerusalem in the Palestinian West Bank could remain unbuilt if peace talks with the Palestinians resume.

Israel approved the settlements after the Palestinian Liberation Organization unilaterally sought, and achieved, statehood status at the United Nations despite U.S. and Israeli objections. 

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The Obama administration has called the settlements “especially damaging” to peace prospects.

“It was the way the Israeli government set down a marker,” Ambassador Michael Oren told “Fox News Sunday.” “The Palestinians violated their agreements with us and with the United States by going unilaterally to the U.N. to declare a state. All of our agreements say there's no alternative to direct talks between us and the Palestinians.”

“It's a preliminary stage that was announced, last week,” Oren added. “It could take years to fulfill that. Let's see if the Palestinians come back to the negotiating table.”

Oren also warned Israel could take military action if Islamist militants appear to be gaining access to Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. That standard is higher than President Obama's warning this past week that Syria's President Bashar al-Assad would face “consequences” if he uses chemical weapons against rebel fighters and civilians seeking his ouster from power.

“We have a very clear red line about those chemical weapons passing into the wrong hands,” Oren said. “Can you imagine, if Hezbollah, with its 70,000 rockets, got its hands on chemical weapons that could kill thousands of people?”

He said Assad had proved himself to be “reckless and irresponsible and ruthless” and needs to be deposed even if it means his radical Islamist opponents taking over in Syria.

“If he goes now, we would view that as a positive development,” Oren said. “He's an ally of Iran. He's an ally of Hezbollah. We understand that if jihadists were to come in, it wouldn't be good. But, it perhaps wouldn't be as bad as the current situation.”