Cabinet to Be Briefed on U.S. Talks on Restriction of Settlement Construction for First Time Thursday

Details of talks have until now been kept under wraps. Cabinet minister says Netanyahu will likely ask cabinet to green-light new settlement for Amona residents.

An Israeli border policeman guards as a bulldozer demolishes a home in the recently evicted illegal Israeli settler outpost of Amona, in the occupied West Bank February 6, 2017
Reuters/ Baz Ratner

The security cabinet is convening Thursday to get updates regarding the discussions with the Trump administration about a formula for restricting construction in the settlements, as well as for a broader discussion about the Palestinian issue. A senior Israeli official said that it was the first time the ministers would be getting an update on talks with the White House on settlements since they began three weeks ago.

In recent weeks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has kept ministers in the dark about the content of discussions with the U.S. administration, conducting them solely with his closest advisers. The only minister to receive regular updates has been Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, since the coordination of government activity in the territories and the Civil Administration, which is responsible for planning and construction in the settlements, are both under his authority.

A few days ago Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett met in Washington with American envoy Jason Greenblatt to discuss settlement construction. On Wednesday night Bennett tweeted that “economic peace in the field” should be on the agenda, and not withdrawals or transfers of territory. “A Palestinian state will flood us with refugees,” Bennett wrote. “There are already Palestinian states in Gaza and Jordan. There’s no need for a third.”

The senior official said that at this point there are still disagreements with the administration about settlement construction. One of the central issues being discussed is the establishment of a new settlement for those expelled from the illegal outpost of Amona. Netanyahu, who had promised the residents a new settlement, has said several times over the past few weeks that he is still committed to building it.

An unnamed cabinet minister said that Netanyahu will likely ask the cabinet in Thursday's meeting to greenlight the building of a replacement settlement for Amona's ex-residents, in light of his commitment to do so by the end of March.

Last week Netanyahu’s senior advisers conducted four days of talks in Washington with Greenblatt and his staff, but failed to reach an understanding. Nevertheless, a joint statement issued said that Israel was prepared in principle to restrain construction in the settlements in a way that would take into account President Donald Trump’s desire to advance the peace process.

Contacts between the sides have continued in recent days, primarily by phone, since Greenblatt flew to Amman at the beginning of the week to attend the Arab League summit. On the sidelines of the summit, Greenblatt met with numerous Arab foreign ministers. All the meetings focused on trying to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as part of a broader regional process.