Netanyahu Backpedals on New Settlement, Tells Ministers Israel at Odds With Trump

Another solution will probably be necessary for evacuees of illegal outpost of Amona, premier tells security cabinet, despite promise to build a new settlement for them by end of March.

Netanyahu and Trump at a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, February 15, 2017.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his security cabinet on Sunday that U.S. President Donald Trump's request that Israel rein in construction in West Bank settlements makes it difficult to push for the establishment of a new settlement for evacuees of the illegal outpost of Amona.

Netanyahu told the ministers they will probably need to come up with another solution for the evacuees, despite the promise to build a new settlement for them, two senior officials who were informed of the contents of the meeting, but asked to remain anonymous due to the fact that this was a closed meeting, said.

>> Get all updates on Israel, Trump and the Palestinians: Download our free App, and Subscribe >>

In a cabinet meeting before the security cabinet meeting, Netanyahu was asked by the ministers regarding his visit with Trump. Ministers Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Uri Ariel asked Netanyahu what was said about the new settlement the government promised to build for those evacuated from Amona and stressed that the promise should be kept.

Netanyahu, who, for a long time told emphasized to the ministers Trump's willingness to fully coordinate with Israel on security and strategic issues, said that while a solution needs to be found for Amona evacuees, the creation of a new settlement is not high on the priority list.

"With all due respect to Amona, we need to focus now on coordinating with Trump on the issue of Iran," said Netanyahu. "This issue is a top priority; I don't care how many tweets people here write."

On Thursday, Channel 2's Udi Segal reported that due to the U.S. president's stance that Israel must rein in settlement construction Netanyahu was reconsidering his promise for a new settlement for Amona evacuees. On Sunday, the chairman of the coalition, MK David Bitan, confirmed the report to Kol Barama radio. "He's looking into the issue of a certain slowdown of construction in the settlements," Bitan said. "They'll give Amona people adequate housing in Judea and Samaria. They was a separate settlement and the prime minister is reexamining it." 

Netanyahu told the cabinet that Israel and the Trump administration are at odds over settlement construction, and that a joint team led by Israel's ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer and Trump's adviser Jason Greenblatt will seek to reach understandings on the subject. A similar effort was made after Netanyahu's meeting with then-President Barack Obama in 2009. Six months after a joint team was formulated, Netanyhau agreed to a partial freeze of settlement construction in the West Bank for 10 months. 

Three weeks ago the Prime Minister's Bureau announced that Netanyahu set up a team to push forward the construction of a new settlement for the settlers evicted from the illegal outpost of Amona. Establishing a new settlement was one of the understandings reached between the Prime Minister's Bureau and Amona's residents. Israel hasn't formally decided to establish a new settlement in 25 years. At the time, Netanyahu's bureau said that the team would include representatives of the Amona residents, the defense minister's aide for the settlements and the chief of staff at the Prime Minister's Bureau. It was also said that the team will immediately begin looking for a location for the new settlement. According to the understandings with Amona's former residents, Israel must establish a new settlement for them by the end of March. 

During a joint press conference with Netanyahu last Wednesday, Trump turned to the Israeli premier and asked him to hold back on settlement construction. Netanyahu told reporters at a press briefing later that he would be willing to discuss such restrictions. 

Netanyahu noted that during their meeting, Trump voiced willingness to "dramatically upgrade" U.S.-Israel ties and said professional teams would be set up for that end. On the other hand, Trump asked Netanyahu both publically and privately to rein in settlement construction.

"Trump is willing to upgrade our ties in every field," Netanyahu said. "So if there's a request from the president to examine this issue of construction in the settlement then I think our national interest to reach an understanding.

"It is worth making an effort we agreed to continue to discuss this issue to try to reach understandings that fit our desire for reaching peace and security," Netanyahu said.