Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Thursday morning to fulfill his promise to establish a new settlement for settlers evacuated from the illegal Amona outpost last month.
Hours before he was set to meet for a second time this week with US President Donald Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, he also reiterated his pledge to reach an agreement with Washington on the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
“We’re in the middle of a process of dialogue with the White House and it is our intention to get to an agreed-upon policy on construction in the settlements,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting. He noted that it was preferable to reach such understandings quickly rather than engaging in drawn-out negotiations.
“To the residents of Amona I say again: I made a commitment to you to establish a new community and I stand by this commitment,” Netanyahu declared.
In response, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz asked Netanyahu if it he could applaud. Seconds later, he and other right-leaning ministers started clapping their hands in approval. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, then said that he had never been worried about Netanyahu reneging on his promise.
Last month, Netanyahu, after a meeting with Trump in Washington, reportedly told members of his security cabinet that the government may have to back off its pledge to build the new settlement, drawing vociferous protests from the settlers and their allies in the coalition.
In early February, the West Bank outpost of Amona was forcibly evacuated by Israeli security after the courts ruled that it had been built illegally on private Palestinian land. Netanyahu, in response, promised to compensate Amona’s evicted residents with the creation of a new settlement. In exchange, the residents committed to a peaceful evacuation.
Netanyahu has reportedly been seeking approval from Greenblatt to build the new settlement, which would be the first entirely new state-sanctioned town to be built in the West Bank in more than 20 years.
On Monday, Greenblatt held a first meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem. During the five-hour meeting, Netanyahu raised Jerusalem’s intention to establish a new settlement to compensate the evicted settlers from Amona, a source close to Netanyahu said.
The two also discussed opportunities for advancing peace between Israel and its neighbors, and tried to formulate a coordinated approach for the two leaderships on the issue of settlements.
“The Prime Minister and Mr. Greenblatt continued discussions relating to settlement construction in the hope of working out an approach that is consistent with the goal of advancing peace and security,” according to a joint statement released after the meeting.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu said his talk with Greenblatt had been substantive but that no agreement was reached on the thorny issue of settlements. “I cannot tell you that we finished,” he said. “We agreed, we are in a process, but a process of genuine mutual, very frank dialogue, in the good sense of the word. Very open and very frank, just not open to the press. You will need to wait a little, I do not think for long.”
Greenblatt has been shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah for the past few days, meeting with Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, opposition leader Isaac Herzog and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, as well as with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
On Wednesday Greenblatt made an unannounced trip to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah II in his palace in Amman. A joint statement later described the meeting as “very positive” and said the US envoy and his Jordanian host “both stressed the importance of peace between Israelis and Palestinians and the transformative effect it could have on the region.”
— U.S. Embassy Jordan (@USEmbassyJordan) March 16, 2017
According to Jordan’s official Petra news agency, the king stressed the importance of the US to breaking the peace process deadlock.
Greenblatt also visited Yeshivat Hakotel, a Jewish Talmudic seminary in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Earlier on Wednesday, he met Palestinian youth leaders in the Jalazoun refugee camp near Ramallah “to understand their daily experiences,” as he wrote on his Twitter account. He also met with senior PA security officials and visited recruits at a Jericho training center to review “our joint work to build their capacity to fight terrorism and provide security that benefits both Palestinians and Israelis.”
Back in the White House, Trump “expressed his strong desire to achieve a comprehensive, just, and lasting settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to continue the two countries’ consultations to help reach solutions for regional issues,” according to a statement released after Trump’s meeting Wednesday with Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Greenblatt’s trip is part of an opening attempt to try and broker fresh peace talks after years of stagnation.
His visit marks the first major attempt by the new US administration to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, after two months that have seen officials dither on support for the two-state solution, the possible relocation of the US Embassy and opposition to building in settlements.