PM visits West Bank, says new US settlement policy will ‘stand for generations’
Netanyahu takes opportunity during celebratory meeting with settler leaders to chide them for not speaking out enough against Joint List-backed minority government
Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that the Trump administration’s decision to no longer view Israeli settlements as illegal was “an achievement that will stand for generations.”
The premier made the comments during a celebratory visit to the West Bank just hours after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the softening of Washington’s settlement policy.
Pompeo at a Monday press conference declared that the US was relaxing its position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the latest in a series of Trump administration moves that weaken Palestinian claims to statehood.
The secretary of state repudiated a 1978 State Department legal opinion that held that civilian settlements in the occupied territories are “inconsistent with international law.” Welcomed both by Netanyahu and his rival, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, the move angered Palestinians and immediately put the US at odds with other nations working to end the conflict.
The Trump administration views the opinion, the basis for longstanding US opposition to expanding the settlements, as a distraction and believes any legal questions about the issue should be addressed by Israeli courts, Pompeo said.
“I confess I’m very moved,” Netanyahu told settler leaders and reporters at the Kfar Etzion settlement. “We’re here, in Gush Etzion, a place we were expelled from during the War of Independence, and here we are on a historic day with another tremendous achievement for the State of the Israel that we worked quite a bit on.”
In a closed-door meeting that followed, Netanyahu’s tone stiffened, and he chided the nearly dozen mayors from municipalities throughout the West Bank in attendance for not speaking out enough against the “threat” of a Joint List-backed minority government that the premier claimed Gantz is currently seeking.
“We are facing a minority government and you aren’t helping me. I don’t hear you [speaking out],” two settlers leaders who were in the meeting confirmed Netanyahu as having said.
Despite the Likud leader’s harsh rhetoric against Gantz, the two are slated to meet at 10 p.m. on Monday, just 26 hours before the deadline for Gantz to form a government.
Netanyahu and Gantz have voiced support for a unity government after elections in September left both short of a majority of Knesset seats together with their respective allies. Coalition talks have stalled, however, amid Likud’s insistence on negotiating as a joint bloc together with its religious partners and Blue and White’s ruling out sitting in a government under Netanyahu in light of the premier’s pending indictment on graft charges.