Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held his second meeting this week with US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, on Thursday for further discussions that focused heavily on West Bank settlements but apparently failed to reach an agreement.
Netanyahu and Greenblatt made “progress on the issue of Israeli settlement construction following up on President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement in Washington last month to work out an approach that reflects both leaders’ views,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office issued after the three-hour meting.
“Those discussions are continuing between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office,” it said.
The discussions also explored prospects for renewing peace talks and bolstering the Palestinian economy.
Channel 2 TV reported that Netanyahu made clear to Greenblatt during the meeting that there would be no political possibility of freezing settlement activity, implying that he would not have his coalition’s backing.
Netanyahu and the Trump White House have been trying to reach an understanding on Israeli settlement activity since last month’s meeting between the Israeli leader and the US president, who in a joint press conference told Netanyahu that he wanted him to “hold back” on the settlements.
The issue figured prominently during the first meeting between Greenblatt and Netanyahu on Monday, which lasted over five hours.
Greenblatt tweeted after Thursday’s meeting that the glass was “not half-empty,” but, rather, that the two sides “continue to work to make progress.”
Netanyahu has been trying to get the White House’s approval for the construction of a new settlement — the first in some 25 years — to replace the illegal outpost of Amona, which was evacuated and demolished last month.
Last month, he indicated to members of his security cabinet that the government may have to back off the pledge, drawing vociferous protests from the settlers and their allies in the coalition.
Before the meeting with Greenblatt on Thursday, by contrast, Netanyahu vowed that he would fulfill his promise to Amona residents to establish the new settlement.
Channel 10 reported that Trump was understanding of Netanyahu’s political needs in pushing for a new Amona settlement, and suggested that the prime minister would not publicly have spoken of the need for the new settlement otherwise.
The Israeli prime minister has also been actively trying to avoid friction on other fronts related to settlements, pushing to postpone a Knesset committee vote next week on a bill that calls to annex the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.
Channel 10 reported that it would now be up to Greenblatt and Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, to hammer out a coordinated position on settlement-building.
Earlier Thursday, Greenblatt sat down for an unprecedented session with a delegation from the settler umbrella group the Yesha Council, led by Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi and Shomron Regional Council head Yossi Dagan — a meeting that according to Channel 2 was coordinated with Netanyahu.
Ahead of Greenblatt’s trip to Israel, Dagan told Likud ministers that a Netanyahu agreement to rein in settlement construction, or to a partial freeze of settlements, would lead to political crisis, Channel 2 reported, adding that the settler movement has argued that the freeze imposed by the administration of former president Barack Obama constituted “a breach of their human rights.”
A statement from the Yesha Council following the meeting with Greenblatt described it as “fruitful and positive,” and added that the council “looks forward to continuing this important dialogue.”
Channel 10 reported that officials who have met with Greenblatt over the past several days came away with a sense that the administration is determined to make progress on a regional basis, with talk of convening a possible regional conference in the coming months, and that White House efforts to get Israel to rein in settlements would come into play then.
Netanyahu said earlier Thursday that Israel was “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.” 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 said at the weekly cabinet meeting.
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.”
In a series of tweets Thursday following the day’s meetings, Greenblatt thanked Netanyahu, Abbas, the US embassy in Tel Aviv and in Jordan for “an extremely positive trip.”
Greenblatt also thanked the Prime Minister’s Office for organizing a minyan for evening prayer Thursday and Netanyahu for praying with him “so that I could say Kaddish for my mother.”
— Jason D. Greenblatt (@GreenblattJD) March 16, 2017
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.