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After more deadlocked talks, White House expresses ‘concerns’ with settlement building

Amid reports denied by Netanyahu that Trump wants a freeze at isolated settlements, Israel says it intends to adopt a policy that takes US stance ‘into consideration’

US President Donald Trump, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during 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 during a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

WASHINGTON — After four days of high-level discussions between the Trump administration and an Israeli delegation, which concluded Thursday, no agreement has been forged regarding Israel’s ongoing settlement construction, an issue that concerns US President Donald Trump, the Trump administration indicated Thursday evening.

“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 will 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.”

Trump publicly asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February to “hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

The series of meetings in Washington this past week followed Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt’s trip to the region last week, in which he met with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to try and jumpstart peace talks.

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)

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 Israeli 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.

View of the Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumin, in the West Bank on January 4, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90)
View of the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumin, in the West Bank on January 4, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90)

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

“A principal focus of the discussions was specific measures that could have a meaningful impact on the economic environment in the West Bank and Gaza, allowing the Palestinians to more fully realize their economic potential,” the read out said.

“The Israelis welcomed United States interest in continuing to play a facilitating role in advancing issues regarding electricity and water in ways that will benefit both Israel and the Palestinians and also move the Palestinians toward self-sustainability in these crucial areas.”

Quality of life issues for Palestinians have long been a priority in a US policy geared toward creating the conditions for a peace agreement.

Both sides concluded their latest round of talks by emphasizing they had a “particular focus” on “concrete, near-term measures to improve the overall climate in order to advance the prospects for a genuine and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

There is no immediate word on a date for resuming the US-Israel talks.

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