Israel and U.S. Make Progress in Talks on Curbs to Settlement Construction, but No Agreement Yet

Second meeting between Netanyahu, Greenblatt lasts for three hours, but fails to produce understanding on settlement construction; discussions set to continue with Israeli ambassador in Washington, joint statement says.

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Jason Greenblatt (L), U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister?s Office in Jerusalem March 13, 2017.
Jason Greenblatt (L), U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy meets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister?s Office in Jerusalem March 13, 2017. Credit: HANDOUT/REUTERS

After a three hour meeting Thursday and phone conversations lasting a total of eight hours, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and special U.S. envoy Jason Greenblatt have yet to reach an understanding on restrictions to construction in West Bank settlements.

According to a joint statement released at the conclusion of their meeting Thursday, Netanyahu and Greenblatt made progress on the issue and contacts will continue next week.

"They also made progress on the issue of Israeli settlement construction, following up on President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu's agreement in Washington last month to work out an approach that reflects both leaders' views," said the statement. "Those discussions are continuing between the White House and the Prime Minister's Office."

The talks next week are set to take place in Washington between Greenblatt and Israel's U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer.

During their meeting on Thursday, Netanyahu and Greenblatt also discussed practical actions Israel could take to help boost the Palestinian economy.

"The Prime Minister and Mr. Greenblatt met today for another positive discussion regarding the shared interest of the United States and Israel in advancing a genuine and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians that strengthens the security of Israel," said the statement. 

Prior to the meeting, Netanyahu said that Israel was in the midst of a dialogue with the White House on settlement construction. "Our intent is to reach an agreed-upon policy regarding settlement construction. Policy that is acceptable to us, and not just to the Americans," Netanyahu said.

Mentioning the residents of a West Bank settlement outpost which was built illegally on private Palestinian land and demolished following a court order, Netanyahu said: "To the residents of Amona, I repeat: I gave my commitment and I will stand by it."

Netanyahu met on Monday evening for more than five hours with Greenblatt for the first time. Dermer was present for most of the meeting and the most significant part of the conversation dealt with the attempt to formulate understandings on construction in the settlements.

“There’s no blank check from Trump for construction in the settlements and that was known from the first minute he entered the White House,” an official who is involved in contacts between Israel and the United States on the subject told Haaretz. “We are looking for the common denominator with the Americans that will allow construction on the one hand, and on the other promote with the Trump administration diplomatic moves in many areas.”

Speaking at a Tuesday press conference at his office, Netanyahu described his conversations with Greenblatt as “good and thorough.” Netanyahu added: “I can’t say that we finished or summed things up; we are in a process, but a process of true and sincere dialogue in the positive meaning of the word. It is not yet open to the press.”