Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition are pushing to set up a new West Bank settlement to replace the demolished outpost of Amona.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel of the right-wing Jewish Home party on Sunday publicized a letter which he has sent to the relevant agencies, calling on the Benjamin Regional Council to find a suitable site for a new settlement. Ariel also demanded that the treasury transfer NIS 70 million ($19 million) to the council within seven days to enable it to draw up plans.
Ariel called on all the parties to “work as quickly as possible to finalize the statutory plans and to set up a permanent settlement in the shortest time possible,” Channel 10 reported on Sunday.
Three months ago, Netanyahu promised residents of the illegal Amona outpost that he would build the first new West Bank settlement in 25 years, and vowed that construction would begin no later than the end of March.
However, last month, after meeting with US President Donald Trump, Netanyahu reportedly told members of the security cabinet that the government may have to renege on his pledge, following a request by the president to “hold back” on settlement construction.
Netanyahu is said to have told ministers that, while he will not impose a settlement freeze, there is likely to be a slowdown in West Bank construction.
Trump told Netanyahu during their joint press conference in Washington in on February 15 to “hold back on settlements for a little bit,” a request that, according to the prime minister, makes it difficult to push ahead with the plan to establish the new settlement,Hebrew media quoted Netanyahu as saying.
Amona is important, and a solution should be found, but there are more pressing issues, he is reported to have told his ministers, citing the need to work with the Trump administration to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“With all due respect to Amona, we must now focus on coordinating with Trump on Iran. It’s a top priority. I don’t care how many tweets people here write,” he said according to Haaretz, which cited two officials with knowledge of the content of the meeting. Netanyahu was likely referring to a number of tweets by members of the Jewish Home party.
Under an agreement signed with the government ahead of the evacuation on Februay 2, Amona residents were allowed to pick a new site to rebuild their community — a first state-sanctioned new settlement to be built in decades.
The residents had agreed to move to the unauthorized outpost of Geulat Tzion in the West Bank, located in the Shiloh settlement bloc. While Amona was built on privately owned Palestinian land, according to a court ruling, Geulat Tzion is on a state-owned tract.
According to the deal, the new settlement was to be set up within two months of the evacuation.