White House cautions Israel against ‘unrestrained’ settlement building
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White House cautions Israel against ‘unrestrained’ settlement building

After expressing understanding for new West Bank site for Amona evacuees, US administration says large-scale settlement expansion 'does not help' peace

The West Bank settlement of Eli. (CC, BY Akivapath at English Wikipedia)
The West Bank settlement of Eli. (CC, BY Akivapath at English Wikipedia)

The White House on Friday cautioned Israel on large-scale settlement building, saying existing controversial projects are not an impediment to peace but further expansion could be.

“While the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace,” a White House official said.

The comment came a day after an official in the Trump administration said the White House was understanding of the Israeli government’s decision Thursday to establish a new West Bank settlement, since the Netanyahu coalition had promised to do so before President Donald Trump made clear his objections to settlement expansion.

The official added that the White House expects Israel to slow down the pace of settlement construction in the future, indicating that Jerusalem had agreed to do so after the new community, intended to compensate settlers whose homes were demolished two months ago, has been established.

Members of the security cabinet voted unanimously on Thursday to establish a new settlement for Amona evacuees north of Ramallah, the first new Jewish town in the territory since the 1993 Oslo Accords.

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)

Hours later, the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel will curb construction in West Bank settlements as a goodwill gesture to Trump.

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.

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 White House official had said earlier Thursday: “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.”

“Going forward… the Israeli government has made clear that Israel’s intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes President Trump’s concerns into consideration,” the official added.

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 PMO on Thursday also announced the approval of tenders for some 2,000 new settlement homes — housing units whose planned construction, among some 5,5000, was first announced in January.

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