Netanyahu's Office Postpones Meeting on Settlement Construction Until After Trump’s Visit

The planning committee that approves construction in Israel's West Bank settlements was supposed to convene this week, but was pushed to June to avoid friction with the U.S.

 Modiin Illit
Oded Balilty/AP

The Prime Minister's Office had the Civil Administration's High Planning Committee postponed a meeting that was supposed to convene this week to approve building projects in West Bank settlements.  A senior official told Haaretz that Netanyahu's office asked that the meeting only take place after U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to the country on May 22 ends.

The senior official, who asked to remain anonymous, stated that the postponement was intended to avoid friction between Israel and the U.S. over the issue of settlement construction a short while before the presidential visit. This kind of friction could mar the entire visit, turn the settlements issue into a major issue in the negotiations and give the Palestinians arguments to strengthen their position during Trump's visit to Bethlehem and his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Jerusalem wanted to avoid a rerun of the crisis that took place in March 2010 when during then-Vice President Joe Biden visit to Israel 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo, beyond the Green Line, were approved.

According to the senior official, the meeting will be postponed for a few weeks and will take place early in June. "We didn't want to hold discussions on the settlements close to Trump's visit," the official said. "The postponement was necessary."

The issue of settlement construction was one of the first issues the White House and the Prime Minister's Office discussed after Trump took office. In a press conference that Trump and Netanyahu held at the beginning of their White House meeting on February 15, the president asked the prime minister on camera to rein in the settlements.

In an interview with "Israel Hayom" a few days before Netanyahu's visit to the White House, Trump said that settlement construction doesn't benefit the advancement of the peace process, since it limits the territory being negotiated over. Trump said that he believed that a peace agreement was possible and called on Israel to "act reasonably."

Trump's statements to "Israel Hayom" and during the joint press conference surprised Netanyahu, who thought that the settlement issue may come up from time to time during discussions but wouldn't be expressed publicly.

During the weeks after Netanyhu's visit, several rounds of negotiations on the settlements took place between American envoy Jason Greenblatt and Netanyahu and his advisers. In these negotiations too, Netanyahu and his team were surprised by the American's hardline positions concerning the settlements. After several weeks of discussions the two sides failed to reach understandings, and Netanyahu decided to make a unilateral move and restrain settlement construction.

In the end of March, Israel's security cabinet voted for a policy of restrained construction according to which construction would be limited to the area of already existing settlements or areas adjacent to them. It was further decided that the High Planning Committee, which approves construction projects in the settlements would meet once every three weeks and not once a week as it was before.