WASHINGTON — A day after US President Donald Trump told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit,” Netanyahu met with US Vice President Mike Pence to discuss the establishment of a mechanism on the issue.
Netanyahu and Pence also agreed to “work together in a systematic manner” to change the United Nations’ treatment of Israel, a member of Netanyahu’s delegation to Washington said after the meeting.
It was possible that Washington would demand drastic changes in the UN’s approach to the Jewish state, including the threat to withhold US funding, the official said.
Netanyahu also discussed with Pence his concerns over Jonathan Pollard, a former American spy who served nearly 20 years in prison on charges of spying in Israel before being released in 2015, but is prevented from moving to Israel. Pollard’s imprisonment had been a longtime point of tension in Israeli-US relations and Israeli leaders petitioned their US counterparts for years in order to secure’s Pollard’s release. Pence reportedly agreed to consider the issue, and it was agreed that the Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer would personally take on this portfolio.
The prime minister also reiterated his request that the US recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, something he put to Trump during their Oval Office meeting on Wednesday. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and extended sovereignty over the area in 1981. No other countries recognize Israel sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
“We [will] formulate as soon as possible the creation of a mechanism to discuss with the White House construction in the settlements, with the intention of reaching an understanding on this matter,” a member of Netanyahu’s delegation to Washington said after Thursday’s meeting.
Netanyahu had responded to Trump’s request to rein in settlement activity on Wednesday by promising that Israel and the US would try to coordinate their positions on settlement construction in the West Bank, “so that we don’t bump into each other on this every time.”
After Netanyahu and Trump met in the Oval Office following the press conference, the White House said the two “discussed the issue of Israeli settlement construction,” and “agreed to continue those discussions and to work out an approach that is consistent with the goal of advancing peace and security.”
In a briefing session with Israeli and international reporters after the meeting, Netanyahu confirmed the Trump administration and Israel “want to reach agreement [on settlements]. We discussed it and will continue to discuss it in order to get to an agreement.”
Netanyahu also said that recently announced plans for some 6,000 housing units in various settlements across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem would still go ahead. However, he was hesitant to talk about the establishment of a new settlement, which he promised the settler community as compensation for Amona, an illegal outpost that was evacuated last month due to a court order that determined it was built on private Palestinian land. And he indicated that he would at least consider Trump’s request that he rein in settlements.
Plans for a new settlement were “still being negotiated,” Netanyahu said, but “if there’s a request to examine this issue from so friendly a president, I think it’s appropriate to make the effort.” He added: “In Jerusalem, we’ll continue to build, and everything we’ve already announced will be built. But, on the rest, we need to discuss [it] and reach an agreement,” Netanyahu said, adding that while the US and Israel see “eye to eye on the rest of the issues, we must examine any request on this issue because it is in our interest.”
Later, however, his office issued a short statement asserting that “there are inaccurate headlines [appearing on this issue]. The prime minister did not say that he was prepared to discuss reining in construction.”
During Wednesday’s press conference, Trump rejected what he called the “very very unfair” treatment of Israel at the UN.
Trump has previously stated that he may seek to make significant changes at the UN in response to the world body’s tense relationship with Israel, writing on Twitter “as to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th” following a December UN Security Council Resolution that labelled Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as having “no legal validity.”