Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu informed his Cabinet Thursday evening that Israel will slow down its settlement activity in the West Bank, out of respect for President Trump.
The new policy came immediately following a cabinet decision to construct a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in 20 years. The new community is meant to serve as compensation for the settlement of Amona, which was demolished last month after Israel’s Supreme Court ruled it had been built on private Palestinian land.
The policy adjustment was reported by Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Friday and confirmed by The Washington Post.
According to Haaretz, Netanyahu told the White House that he had no choice but to approve the new settlement as he had previously committed to relocating the 40 families evicted from Amona. Netanyahu’s also said Thursday that Israel would proceed with plans to construct thousands more housing units inside already existing settlements, in keeping with projects approved before Trump took office.
Moving forward, however, Netanyahu told his ministers that Israel would adopt a more muted policy on settlement construction in deference to the preferences of the Trump administration.
“This is a very friendly administration and we need to take his requests into consideration,” Haaretz reported Netanyahu told ministers.
He said that under the new policy, Israel would continue with some construction when permissible but only inside previously developed areas or in areas adjacent to those already developed. In addition, Israel will not allow the creation of any new illegal outposts.
In their meeting in Washington last month, Trump urged Netanyahu to “hold back” from more settlement construction. The settlement issue, said Netanyahu afterwards, was a point where the two governments did not yet see “eye to eye.”
Since then, the two sides have been working to reach an agreement on the issue, which remains elusive despite several meetings been Israeli officials and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special representative for international negotiations.
In recent weeks, The White House has indicated its interest in restarting the stalled peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. Greenblatt visited the region earlier this month, meeting with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Trump has hinted he believes the two-state solution – the creation of a nation state for the Palestinians alongside Israel – might be the preferred option.
Palestinians are vehemently opposed to the existence of Israeli settlements, seeing them as an expansion of Israel into territory they hope will one day be part of a Palestinian state. Much of the international community views Israeli settlements as illegal.
“Israel’s relentless efforts to expand its illegal settlement enterprise with the aim of displacing Palestine and replacing it with ‘Greater Israel’ should send a strong message to governments worldwide that they need to intervene immediately and to undertake concrete measures to hold Israel accountable with serious punitive measures,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee.
Today about 400,000 Jewish settlers are living on 125 settlements and 100 outposts in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, not including East Jerusalem, which is also considered occupied under international law.
Oded Revivi, the chief foreign envoy for the Yesh Council, the umbrella organization for Israeli settlements, said he welcomed the Cabinet’s decision to support new projects in the West Bank.
“The details are much more than what the headlines can hold. From what I understand, it is quite promising,” he said. “On the other hand, it is not everything that we would like to receive. The true test will be the implementation of these plans and their manifestation as actual bricks and mortar on the ground.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Ruth Eglash