Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Thursday morning to fulfill his promise to establish a new West Bank settlement for families evicted from Amona, an outpost razed last month after the High Court of Justice ruled it had been built illegally on private Palestinian land.
The cabinet is scheduled to vote on authorizing the new community on Thursday evening.
“I promised from the beginning that we would build a new settlement,” Netanyahu told reporters during at a joint press conference with visiting Slovak President Andre Kiska in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. “I think I first made that commitment in December, and today we’re fulfilling it. In another few hours you will know all the details.”
The settlement would be the first new one in some 25 years. While Israel stopped establishing new settlements in the early 1990s, outposts set up since then have been given retroactive approval, and existing settlements have expanded their footprints, sometimes being neighborhoods of existing settlements in name only.
The move would appear to fly in the face of US President Donald Trump’s demand of Netanyahu, at their joint press conference last month, that Israel “hold back” on West Bank settlement construction, and despite the failure of several efforts since then to formulate a coordinated Israeli-US position on settlements.
According to a Channel 2 report, the prime minister is seeking his ministers’ approval for the new settlement, despite not having an agreement with Trump, because he is under considerable pressure from them to honor his obligation to build a new settlement.
Netanyahu will deliver his first report in three weeks to the security cabinet on the progress of talks with the US Trump administration about limiting West Bank settlement construction, the report said.
At a press conference following their first summit in Washington last month, Trump told Netanyahu, “I’d like you to hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
But despite several rounds of discussions, no agreement has yet been reached.
An unnamed senior Israeli official told the Haaretz newspaper that one of the main gaps that still existed between Israel and the US concerned building of the new settlement for Amona evacuees.
Netanyahu promised the evacuees that he would build a new settlement for them and that the process would begin by the end of March. He has repeated the pledge several times in recent weeks.
To date, Netanyahu has only involved close confidants in the talks with the US, including Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is responsible for the bodies that plan and build in the West Bank.
A series of meetings in Washington on the issue last week followed Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt’s trip to the region, in which he met with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to try and jumpstart peace talks.
In those talks in Jerusalem, Greenblatt reportedly demanded that Israel halt all construction in isolated West Bank settlements and put curbs on new building inside the major settlement blocs, but Netanyahu was said to have rejected the idea. An official in the Prime Minister’s Office denied that any such terms had been advanced by Greenblatt.
Greenblatt on Wednesday wrapped up his attendance at the Arab League summit in Jordan, where he met with several Arab foreign ministers. “In his meetings, Mr. Greenblatt focused on how tangible progress could be made toward advancing Middle East peace, including a comprehensive agreement between Israelis and Palestinians,” a readout by the US Embassy in Amman read. “He reaffirmed President Trump’s personal interest in achieving a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians and his belief that such a peace agreement is not only possible, but would reverberate positively throughout the region and the world.”
On Wednesday evening, Greenblatt arrived in Jerusalem for a very brief personal visit, during which he met the leader of a prominent ultra-Orthodox Talmud academy, but did not meet any Israeli officials.
On Tuesday, Greenblatt met with Abbas, who is due in Washington in April at the invitation of Trump.
Netanyahu will also brief ministers on Trump’s reported intention to try to launch a new Israeli-Palestinian peace effort soon, the TV report said Wednesday.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.