The US administration expressed understanding for the Israeli government’s decision Thursday to establish a new West Bank settlement, since the Netanyahu coalition had promised to do so before President Donald Trump enunciated his objections to settlement expansion.
At the same time, the White House expects Israel to slow down the pace of settlement construction in the future, according to an administration official. The official indicated that Jerusalem had agreed to restrain settlement construction after the new community, meant to compensate settlers whose homes were demolished two months ago, has been established.
“President Trump has publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements. As the administration has made clear: while the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace,” a White House official told The Times of Israel on Thursday evening.
“The Israeli government has made clear that going forward, its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the President’s concerns into consideration. The United States welcomes this.”
A few minutes before the official’s comments, the Israeli security cabinet unanimously voted to create a new settlement for the evacuees of Amona, a West Bank outpost that was dismantled in early February after the High Court of Justice ruled it was illegally built on private Palestinian land.
Even before the outpost was dismantled, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised the evicted settlers a new community elsewhere in the West Bank.
The new settlement, which is to be located in Emek Shiloh, north of Ramallah, will be the first new government-approved West Bank community in about 25 years.
In addition, the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday evening also announced the approval of tenders for some 2,000 new settlement homes; these were some of 6,000 planned homes first announced in January.
“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,” the White House official told The Times of Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Going forward and as we move into more detailed discussions regarding the possibilities for advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace, the Israeli government has made clear that Israel’s intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes President Trump’s concerns into consideration.”
Washington will continue to work with Israelis, Palestinians and other players in the region, to “create a climate that is conducive to peace,” the White House official added. “We hope that the parties will take reasonable actions moving forward that create a climate that is conducive to peace.”
The Palestinians, on the other hand, reacted furiously to the Israeli cabinet decision.
“Today’s announcement once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization. “It is time that all members of the international community serve the cause of peace and justice and bring Israel to cease and desist its unlawful settlement activities and illegal unilateralism once and for all.”
Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu said he had promised a new settlement for the Amona evacuees even before Trump’s inauguration. “I believe that I first gave that promise back in December and we will uphold it today,” he said during a meeting with Slovak President Andre Kiska.
At their joint press conference last month, Trump asked that Israel “hold back” on West Bank settlement construction. 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.
Greenblatt on Wednesday wrapped up his attendance at the Arab League summit in Jordan, where he met with several Arab foreign ministers. “In his meetings, Mr. Greenblatt focused on how tangible progress could be made toward advancing Middle East peace, including a comprehensive agreement between Israelis and Palestinians,” a readout by the US Embassy in Amman read.
“He reaffirmed President Trump’s personal interest in achieving a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians and his belief that such a peace agreement is not only possible, but would reverberate positively throughout the region and the world.”