PM said preparing package of gestures for Palestinians at Trump’s behest

Netanyahu reportedly tells cabinet that the Americans know about every home that is built in the settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on March 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on March 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly preparing a raft of goodwill gestures for the Palestinians following a request from US President Donald Trump, who wants to see the two sides back at the negotiating table.

Netanyahu presented some of the measures to his cabinet in a meeting held Thursday night, according to a report published Monday in the Haaretz newspaper. The reported cited five participants in the closed-door meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Chief among the measures was allowing Palestinians to build in Area C of the West Bank, the part of the territory under full Israeli civil and military control.

During the meeting, the prime minister also announced measures to limit building in the West Bank. He told his ministers that although the move is not part of an official agreement or informal understanding with the White House, he knows that the Trump administration will be keeping a very close eye on settlement construction.

The Americans know about every home that is built in the settlements, he reportedly said.

The prime minister also noted several times that Trump is determined to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and to reach a deal between the two sides. Netanyahu stressed the importance of Israel not being seen as the party that caused the process to fail.

Trump will this week be meeting Arab leaders, who are likely to present him with a plan to get the Israelis and the Palestinian back to the negotiating table.

In previous attempts, the Palestinians have demanded a complete freeze to settlement construction.

While Netanyahu has close personal relations with Trump and views the new administration as much better for Israel than the Obama White House, he is nevertheless wary of antagonizing the American leader.

“This is a very friendly administration and we need to be considerate of the president’s requests,” Netanyahu reportedly said, referring to Trump’s statements that he would like to see settlement construction limited.

Although Netanyahu had said that there will be “no limits” on construction in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, he stressed that “we have to act wisely,” Haaretz reported, implying that construction in the capital will not automatically be green-lighted.

After ministers last Thursday approved a new settlement for the evacuees of the Amona outpost, the Prime Minister’s Office said overnight Thursday-Friday that any future construction would be limited to existing settlement boundaries or adjacent to them. If legal, security or topographical limitations do not allow adherence to those guidelines, however, new homes would be built outside the current settlement boundaries but as close as possible to them, the statement said.

Israel will also prevent the construction of any new illegal outposts, Netanyahu told his ministers.

The White House on Friday welcomed the new policy.

Notwithstanding the Israeli unilateral steps to curry favor with the US, Israel Radio reported Sunday that the negotiations between Israel and the US over settlement construction were put on hold on Sunday morning after Netanyahu and Jason Greenblatt — Trump’s special envoy — and working groups on both sides failed to reach understandings on the issue.

However, the White House told The Times of Israel later Sunday that it was not holding “formal negotiations” with Israel over the settlements. “I would dissuade you from the notion that there is some set of formal negotiations regarding settlements,” an administration official told The Times of Israel. “We continuously discuss a range of issues, including how to improve the overall climate.”

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