Netanyahu Says Construction in Jerusalem Settlements Off the Table in Talks With White House

Israeli delegation is in Washington to negotiate settlement construction 'slowdown' with Trump team.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during his meeting with China's President Xi Jinping at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on March 21, 2017.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during his meeting with China's President Xi Jinping at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on March 21, 2017. Credit: ETIENNE OLIVEAU/AFP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Israeli talks with the Trump administration over limiting settlement construction will not touch on the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israeli reporters during his visit to Beijing on Tuesday.

began in the White House on Monday in an effort to reach understandings concerning the settlements. The talks continued on Tuesday, though no breakthroughs have been reported.

“I am not discussing the issue of construction in Jerusalem. It does not even enter the equation,” said Netanyahu. “I am ready to discuss [limiting construction in the settlements] and I am looking for an agreed upon formula for construction in Judea and Samaria. There are differences of opinion with the Americans. That is why I met with the twice and I sent a delegation to Washington in order to reach an understanding. This is an ongoing process.”

One of the main topics on the agenda is Netanyahu’s commitment to build a new settlement for the former residents of the illegal outpost of Amona, which was evacuated in early February, a senior Israeli official said. Netanyahu has made it clear publically a number of times last week that he is committed to his promise to the Amona evacuees. At the same time, the White House has expressed its objections to building new settlements in the West Bank, and as of now no understanding has been reached that will allow Netanyahu to fulfill his promise.

The Israeli delegation to the talks is headed by Netanyahu's chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, who was accompanied by foreign policy adviser Jonathan Schachter and an attorney from the Prime Minister’s Office who deals with the settlements. The delegation took off just as Netanyahu was leaving for his official visit to China. The PMO kept Horowitz’s trip a secret and only informed the press on Sunday evening after Haaretz inquired about the trip.

Horowitz, Schachter and the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, met on Monday with Trump's envoy Jason Greenblatt and other senior U.S. officials from the White House and State Department in order to continue the discussions that began last week in Jerusalem during Greenblatt’s visit.

During last week’s talks, Greenblatt used the term “slowdown” as guiding principle for the understandings on limitations on settlement construction, said a senior Israeli official.  But it is not clear what this term actually means in practice in this context.

Though U.S. President Donald Trump hasn’t demanded a complete freeze of settlement construction like his predecessor, Greenblatt did convey to Netanyahu in their talks last week that the president is seeking a formula that will include minimum settlement construction and will be in line with his efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace. A senior official with knowledge of Greenblatt’s contacts in Israel said the envoy made it clear that Netanyahu must show that he’s willing to take steps on curbing settlement construction and in other matters to prove his goodwill to advance the peace process.