Netanyahu: ‘Significant progress’ in settlement talks with US
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Netanyahu: ‘Significant progress’ in settlement talks with US

In remarks before departing China, PM also says Beijing ‘has decided to build a special connection with Israel’ in the sphere of innovation

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Sara Netanyahu takes pictures using her mobile phone of her husband, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit at the Great Wall of China in Beijing on March 22, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)
Sara Netanyahu takes pictures using her mobile phone of her husband, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit at the Great Wall of China in Beijing on March 22, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

BEIJING — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that “significant progress” has been made toward an understanding between Israel and the US on settlement construction.

“The talks have not been completed, but there is progress and we will hear about it when we reach Israel,” he told reporters in China, where he was on a state visit, shortly before his plane took off for Israel.

Speaking at the airport, Netanyahu said $2 billion worth of deals were signed during his China trip.

Speakingly glowingly of China, “a giant power,” he enthused that Beijing “has decided to build a special connection with the state of Israel in the sphere of innovation,” and cited the unique bilateral partnership agreed here on technological development. This, he stressed, was a deal “unique to Israel,” which opens all kinds of economic opportunities.

Israel’s upgraded ties with Beijing, he said, also have diplomatic value, and would help boost Israel’s already rising diplomatic status, he said.

Before leaving China, Netanyahu visited the Great Wall, which he said underlined China’s impressive, ancient civilization and reminded him of the Jewish people.

Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, left for Washington on Sunday to discuss settlement building with the Trump administration.

Horowitz joined Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the US, to continue discussions with US President Donald Trump’s special envoy Jason Greenblatt in an attempt to reach an understanding with the administration on construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, left, meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, left, meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Greenblatt had visited Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan last week to gain a deeper understanding of the situation. Despite two meetings with Netanyahu during the course of the visit, no agreement was reached on settlements.

Israel and the Trump administration have been trying to reach an understanding on the issue since last month’s meeting between the prime minister and Trump, who in a joint press conference told Netanyahu that he wanted him to “hold back” on settlements.

Netanyahu has been seeking to get the White House’s approval for the construction of a new settlement — the first in some 25 years — for the evacuated residents of the illegal outpost of Amona, which was demolished last month.

Channel 10 reported that officials who met with Greenblatt last week came away with a sense that the administration was determined to make progress on a regional peace accord, 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.

Marissa Newman contributed to this report.

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