The main settler umbrella group on Friday refrained from criticizing the government for announcing curbs on West Bank construction, even as several right-wing lawmakers fretted that the purported limitations adopted by the security cabinet late Thursday were masking a de facto settlement freeze.
The Yesha Council on Friday also welcomed the security cabinet’s approval of the establishment of a new West Bank settlement for families evicted from the razed Amona outpost, the first new Jewish town in the territory since the 1993 Oslo Accords.
The organization further said that it would work to make sure Jerusalem’s decision to restrain any further construction of new settlements would not affect building in existing settlements.
“In light of the decisions and despite specific limitations, the understandings reached between the Israeli government and the US government will enable the continuation of settlement construction in all settlements in Judea and Samaria, and also the establishment of the new settlement for the residents of Amona,” a statement issued by the council read.
“In this case too, the real test will be an immediate renewal of the planning, construction and development throughout the settlements, as well as actions in the field. We will be vigilant and will work with the Israeli government to bring this plan to fruition.”
On Thursday night, mere hours after the security cabinet decided to establish the new settlement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would curb construction in West Bank settlements as a goodwill gesture to US President Donald Trump.
The Prime Minister’s Office said any future construction would be limited to existing settlement boundaries or adjacent to them. However, if legal, security or topographical limitations do not allow adherence to those guidelines, new homes will be built outside the current settlement boundaries but as close as possible to them. It was not immediately clear if the new guidelines were a departure from the existing policies.
Israel will also prevent the construction of any new illegal outposts, Netanyahu told his ministers.
“This is a very friendly administration and we need to be considerate of the president’s requests,” Netanyahu told the security cabinet, according to the Haaretz daily, referring to Trump’s statements that he would like to see settlement construction limited.
Meanwhile, Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich, who lives in a Jewish community in the West Bank, accused the government of enacting a settlement freeze.
“This morning, on my [news feed] and according to the commentators — the right wing claims that the cabinet decided yesterday on construction [in the West Bank], the left claims that there is a freeze,” Smotrich tweeted Friday. “Unfortunately this time the commentators on the left are correct. The right is willfully blinded.”
Likud MK Yehudah Glick, also a resident of a West Bank settlement, expressed similar sentiments.
“I hope, in contrast to the commentators, that the government did not decide on a freeze on settlement construction,” Glick wrote in a tweet Friday. “We cannot accept this. Construction in Judea and Samaria is important for those who want peace.”
A White House official had said after the announcement of the new settlement on Thursday that talks between Jerusalem and the US on limiting settlement construction were ongoing, and had hinted that Israel had agreed to some sort of slowdown that takes Trump’s “concerns into consideration.”
He indicated that the Amona decision may have remained outside those discussions.
“With regards to the new settlement for Amona residents, we would note that the Israeli prime minister made a commitment to the Amona settlers prior to President Trump laying out his expectations, and has consistently indicated that he intended to move forward with this plan,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The settlement, meant to compensate settlers whose homes were demolished two months ago, would be the first new legal one in some 25 years. While Israel stopped establishing new settlements in the early 1990s, outposts set up since then have been given retroactive approval, and existing settlements have expanded their footprints, sometimes being neighborhoods of existing settlements in name only.
Trump had asked Netanyahu at a joint press conference last month for Israel to “hold back” on West Bank settlement construction. Several efforts since then to formulate a coordinated Israeli-US position on settlements have not yielded an agreement.
The White House official said the administration expected Israel to heed Trump, saying that while it did not view settlements as an obstacle to peace, “further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace.”
Last month, Trump and Netanyahu agreed to create a mechanism to formulate a coordinated Israeli-US position on settlements. But despite several rounds of discussions between Israeli and American officials, no agreement has yet been reached.
A series of meetings in Washington on the issue last week followed a trip to the region by Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt, in which he met with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
In those talks in Jerusalem, Greenblatt reportedly demanded that Israel halt all construction in isolated West Bank settlements and put curbs on new building inside the major settlement blocs, but Netanyahu was said to have rejected the idea. An official in the Prime Minister’s Office denied that any such terms had been advanced by Greenblatt.