Israeli official denies US demanding freeze in isolated settlements
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Israeli official denies US demanding freeze in isolated settlements

Statement to be released later Thursday on status of talks with Washington over Israeli construction activity in West Bank

Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Monday, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)
Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Monday, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

A senior Israeli official on Thursday denied reports that the Trump administration has demanded Israel stop all construction in isolated West Bank settlements and put curbs on new building inside the major settlement blocs.

According to Wednesday’s reports, the terms were laid out by US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt in a pair of lengthy meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week on Israeli settlement activity.

Israeli and US officials have been engaging in ongoing talks in efforts to reach an understanding on construction in the West Bank, since Trump last month asked Netanyahu to “hold back” on settlements.

“The reports concerning Mr. Greenblatt’s visit to Israel and any purported US demands of Israel in talks regarding the settlements are false,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official said a statement on the status of the negotiations between Jerusalem and Washington would be provided later Thursday.

Greenblatt was reported to have set out terms under which the US would not oppose the construction of new homes in Jewish neighborhoods over the pre-1967 lines in East Jerusalem, and would accept an agreed number of new homes each year inside the major settlement blocs, while no new homes would be built in isolated settlements.

Building in the blocs would be within an agreed annual quota, Greenblatt proposed, according to Channel 2.

Israel “was surprised” by the stringency of the demands, and rejected them, the TV report said.

Haaretz reported that Netanyahu rejected the terms in part due to opposition from coalition members to a public declaration of any type of settlement freeze. Right-wing members of his Likud party, as well as from the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, were adamantly opposed to any freeze, Haaretz added.

A picture taken from the Palestinian village of Sa'ir shows the Israeli settlement of Metzad on March 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)
A picture taken from the Palestinian village of Sa’ir shows the Israeli settlement of Metzad on March 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)

Netanyahu also reportedly rejected Greenblatt’s proposal because it would prevent him from honoring his promise to build a new settlement for the evacuees of the now destroyed illegal Amona outpost, according to Channel 2.

Channel 2 further reported that Netanyahu wants to be able to build within settlements’ “municipal limits” — which could potentially triple the size of the settlement enterprise.

Netanyahu on Sunday dispatched his chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, to Washington in order to continue discussions on the subject with the Trump envoy alongside Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu said there had been “significant progress” in talks on the issue with the US.

“The talks have not been completed, but there is progress and we will hear about it when we reach Israel,” he told reporters in China, where he was on a state visit.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu said that while he is still seeking to reach an agreement with the Trump administration, he would not “negotiate” on halting construction of new homes in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu also said on Tuesday he had not “retreated” from his promise to build a brand new West Bank settlement for the Amona evacuees.

The prime minister has been trying to get the White House’s approval for the construction of the new settlement — the first in some 25 years — to replace Amona, which was evacuated and demolished in February in accordance with a High Court ruling that found it was built illegally on private Palestinian land.

New prefabricated homes are seen under construction in the West Bank between the Israeli outpost of Amona and the settlement of Ofra (background), north of Ramallah, on January 31, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)
New prefabricated homes are seen under construction in the West Bank between the Israeli outpost of Amona and the settlement of Ofra (background), north of Ramallah, on January 31, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

Last month, he indicated to members of his security cabinet that the government may have to back off the pledge, drawing vociferous protests from the settlers and their allies in the governing coalition.

Before his second meeting with Greenblatt last week, by contrast, Netanyahu vowed that he would fulfill his promise to Amona residents to establish the new settlement.

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