The Prime Minister’s Office said on Sunday that a raft of goodwill gestures to the Palestinians approved by the cabinet on Sunday came in response to a request from US President Donald Trump.
Ministers earlier Sunday okayed a series of measures, presented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which include increasing building permits for Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control, opening the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan 24 hours a day, and the development of some West Bank industrial zones.
Trump, who is set to arrive in Israel on Monday, asked for Israel to make the concessions to the Palestinians as confidence-building measures, the PMO said late Sunday.
“This is a gesture for President Trump’s visit, which does not harm Israel’s interests,” a diplomatic source said, “and the steps are all in the economic-civil sphere. There are no security measures or easing of security.”
The package is meant to help Trump’s bid to jump-start peace talks with the Palestinians, moribund since US-brokered negotiations fell apart in 2014. However, the Palestinians have repeatedly indicated they seek an Israeli freeze on settlement building before coming to the table.
Alongside the gestures, the cabinet on Sunday also approved setting up a committee to look at legalizing Israeli outposts and settlements in the West Bank, a move that is sure to anger the Palestinians. The committee, which will operate for three years, will look into legalizing Jewish structures and outposts in the West Bank. The team will report to the prime minister and to the military every three months.
The economic package approved Sunday was based on “diplomatic considerations,” said Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud). It includes rezoning land adjacent to existing Palestinian cities in Area C for Palestinian agriculture, industry, and homes, and developing West Bank industrial zones near Jenin and Tarkumiya, west of Hebron.
In addition to the 24-hour opening of the Allenby crossing, the Sha’ar Ephraim crossing near Tulkarem, between the Palestinian Authority and Israel will be expanded. And the government will look at ways of extending the Jezreel Valley railway line to link the Palestinian Authority city of Jenin with the Haifa coastal port.
“The steps do not change the status quo,” said a diplomatic source after the package was signed off. “Nothing has changed on core issues and the negotiations will resume.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked both of the hawkish Jewish Home party, voted against rezoning Palestinian land, though they supported the other measures.
Trump is scheduled to visit Israel and the West Bank on Monday and Tuesday for meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as part of his efforts to renew talks between the two sides.
A senior White House official told the Haaretz daily that Trump had urged Netanyahu to restrict settlement building in the West Bank while he takes steps to strengthen the Palestinian economy, and will pressure Abbas to stop PA-sponsored incitement against Israel.
“The president has made a general statement regarding his position and he hopes the Israeli government will take it into consideration,” the White House official told Haaretz in a report published Sunday. “He was also very direct with President Abbas regarding incitement and the paying of stipends to the families of terrorists.”
“He has been clear about these issues, and will remain clear on those issues during the visit,” the unnamed official said.
Trump and senior White House aides arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday on the first leg of his trip to the Middle East.
The US leader has repeatedly indicated that he would like to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and in an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper published Sunday said he “honestly, truly” thinks he can do so.