Israel will curb settlement expansion to satisfy Trump
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'We need to be considerate of the president's requests,' PM said to tell ministers

Israel will curb settlement expansion to satisfy Trump

Netanyahu says construction will be limited to current boundaries or -- if constraints do not permit -- as near to them as possible

Building in 2014 at the settlement of Ariel (Flash 90)
Building in 2014 at the settlement of Ariel (Flash 90)

Israel will curb construction in West Bank settlements as a goodwill gesture to US President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told members of the security cabinet on Thursday night.

The announcement came hours after the security cabinet decided to establish a new settlement for families evicted from the razed Amona outpost, and does not apply to that community.

The specifics of the limitations were not immediately available, and it was not yet clear whether they constituted any significant change in policy beyond a general declaration of intent.

The Prime Minister’s Office said any future construction would be limited to existing settlement boundaries or adjacent to them. However, if legal, security or topographical limitations do not allow adherence to those guidelines, new homes will be built outside the current settlement boundaries but as close as possible to them.

Israel will also prevent the construction of any new illegal outposts, Netanyahu told his ministers.

“This is a very friendly administration and we need to be considerate of the president’s requests,” Netanyahu told the security cabinet, according to the Haaretz daily, referring to Trump’s statements that he would like to see settlement construction limited.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, March 26, 2017. (AFP/Gali TIBBON)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, March 26, 2017. (AFP/Gali TIBBON)

The Israeli announcement came after members of the security cabinet voted unanimously to establish a new settlement for Amona evacuees north of Ramallah, the first new Jewish town in the territory since the 1993 Oslo Accords. The PMO also announced the approval of tenders for some 2,000 new settlement homes — housing units whose planned construction was first announced in January.

A White House official had said after the announcement that talks between Jerusalem and the US on limiting settlement construction were ongoing, and had hinted that Israel had agreed to some sort of slowdown that takes US President Donald Trump’s “concerns into consideration.”

He indicated that the Amona decision may have remained outside those discussions.

“With regards to the new settlement for Amona residents, we would note that the Israeli prime minister made a commitment to the Amona settlers prior to President Trump laying out his expectations, and has consistently indicated that he intended to move forward with this plan,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

US President Donald Trump, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)
US President Donald Trump, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

The settlement would be the first new legal 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.

Trump had asked Netanyahu at a joint press conference last month for Israel to “hold back” on West Bank settlement construction. Several efforts since then to formulate a coordinated Israeli-US position on settlements have not yielded an agreement.

The White House official said the administration expected Israel to heed Trump, saying that while it did not view settlements as an obstacle to peace, “further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace.”

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