Netanyahu denies deal to limit West Bank settlement construction
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Netanyahu denies deal to limit West Bank settlement construction

PM dismisses 'incorrect' media reports of alleged agreement made with Washington, says negotiations continuing

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on March 26, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on March 26, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said media reports of a supposed agreement with Washington to limit West Bank settlement construction were inaccurate and that negotiations on the matter were still in progress.

The prime minister’s denial came a day after Channel 2 television said Israel and the US were close to reaching an understanding on settlement building that would see Jerusalem commit to construction limits in return for being allowed to establish the first new settlement in 25 years.

Netanyahu has promised to build a new settlement for the residents of the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona, which was evacuated in January, but has encountered resistance from the administration of US President Donald Trump.

At the start of the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu sought to dispel the claims.

“In the past few days there have been reports in the media about alleged agreements in the talks we are holding with the White House regarding settlement construction,” Netanyahu told ministers. “There are many incorrect things in these reports, I will not go into details. Our talks with the White House are continuing and I hope they will end soon.”

On Saturday Netanyahu’s office also labeled the report as “not true.”

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

The television station’s claim of an impending deal comes amid mounting speculation on the outcome after four days of high-level discussions between the administration and an Israeli delegation, which concluded Thursday.

Channel 2’s report, which called the purported understandings “the Trump formula,” followed a report in The New York Times, which said that Israel is expected to make a general commitment to the Trump administration to slow settlement construction, but will likely not commit to numbers or specific areas.

After the Washington talks, the White House believes it is currently unrealistic to expect Jerusalem to provide a more substantial pledge, officials told the Times.

The administration indicated Thursday that the talks had not led to any concrete agreement on Israel’s ongoing settlement construction.

“The United States delegation reiterated President Trump’s concerns regarding settlement activity in the context of moving towards a peace agreement,” according to a joint readout of the talks. “The Israeli delegation made clear that Israel’s intent going forward is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes those concerns into consideration.”

The two sides said they would continue to engage in dialogue over Israel’s continued building in disputed areas of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. They described the discussions as “serious and constructive, and they are ongoing.”

Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, left, meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, left, meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The series of meetings in Washington this past week followed Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt’s trip to the region earlier this month, in which he met with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to try to 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 on Thursday denied that any such terms had been advanced by Greenblatt.

Greenblatt led the US delegation to this week’s follow-up talks along with other representatives of the National Security Council staff and State Department, including Michael Ratney. The Israeli delegation was led by Yoav Horowitz, Netanyahu’s chief of staff, and Israel’s ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.

Other topics of discussion included boosting the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and reconstruction of vital infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.

Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.

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