BEIJING — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that he would not “negotiate” on halting construction of new homes in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
Speaking with reporters during a visit to China, Netanyahu said that while he is still working to reach an understanding with the Trump administration on settlement building in the West Bank, the topic of placing restrictions on building in East Jerusalem is off the table.
“I won’t negotiate on the issue of Jerusalem, but I am prepared to find an agreed upon formula regarding settlements,” he said.
“There is still a process of working towards arriving at an agreement on the subject of settlements in Judea and Samaria,” he added, using the Biblical name for the West Bank.
After US President Donald Trump told Netanyahu that “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit” during a February meeting of the two leaders at the White House, the prime minister said he was working with the US administration to “establish a mechanism” to coordinate new settlement construction.
However, despite his reportedly discussing the issue at length with Trump’s Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt during Greenblatt’s visit to Israel last week, an agreement has yet to be reached on the issue.
In reference to the lack of progress in negotiations on the topic, Netanyahu said on Tuesday that “there are different viewpoints” and so he dispatched his chief of staff Yoav Horowitz to the US on Sunday in order to continue discussions on the issue with Greenblatt alongside Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.
Netanyahu also said he has not “retreated” from his promise to build a new West Bank settlement for the evacuees of the now demolished illegal Amona outpost.
“I have a promise on Amona and I have not retreated. There is a desire to reach an outcome and I hope that it will be fair,” he said.
Netanyahu has been trying to get the White House’s approval for the construction of the new settlement — the first in some 25 years — to replace Amona, which was evacuated and demolished in February in accordance with a High Court ruling that found it was built illegally on private Palestinian land.
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 his second meeting with Greenblatt last week, by contrast, Netanyahu vowed that he would fulfill his promise to Amona residents to establish the new settlement.
Since Trump’s inauguration, Israel has approved the construction of some 6,000 news homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which unlike during the Obama administration were met with little fanfare from the White House, although no new building plans have been announced since Trump’s comments in February.