Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the staunchly pro-settlement Jewish Home party, indicated Sunday that he accepts the restrictions on settlement construction approved by the government late Thursday as a goodwill gesture to US President Donald Trump.
In his first public response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement last week, Bennett said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem that “the arrangement is a fitting one, but the proof will be in the pudding,” the Hebrew-language Walla website reported.
Last Thursday night, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that the government would permit only limited construction in already established settlement areas.
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 Prime Minister’s Office said at the time 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 would 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.
The Yesha Council, the main settler umbrella group, on Friday also refrained from criticizing the government for the move.
“In light of the decisions and despite specific limitations, the understandings reached between the Israeli government and the US government will enable the continuation of settlement construction in all settlements in Judea and Samaria, and also the establishment of the new settlement for the residents of Amona,” a statement issued by the council read.
“In this case too, the real test will be an immediate renewal of the planning, construction and development throughout the settlements, as well as actions in the field. We will be vigilant and will work with the Israeli government to bring this plan to fruition.”
Meanwhile, the White House welcomed the government plan to rein in building, while a radio report Sunday said talks between the US and Israel on settlement building were suspended after the parties failed to yield an agreement.
“The Israeli government has made clear that going forward, its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the President’s concerns into consideration,” a White House spokesman told The Times of Israel. “The United States welcomes this.”
Trump had asked Netanyahu at a joint press conference in Washington in February for Israel to “hold back” on West Bank settlement construction.