Settlers Call Netanyahu-Trump Summit Chance to Renew West Bank Construction

Despite Trump's recommendations, settler leaders do not expect him to prevent Netanyahu and the Israeli government from building in the settlements.

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Construction in West Bank Settlement Modi'in Ilit, September 14, 2010
Construction in West Bank Settlement Modi'in Ilit, September 14, 2010Credit: Gil Cohen Magen
Yotam Berger
Yotam Berger

Settler leaders are interpreting the meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump as a success as they push for Israel to expand its footprint in the West Bank.

“I’m happy that the two-state-solution fantasy wasn’t mentioned in the meeting,” wrote Yossi Dagan, the head of the Shomron Regional Council. He also repeated his standard phrase since Trump’s election in November: “The ball is in the court of the Prime Minister’s Office.”

Local-government leaders and public figures in the West Bank have echoed this sentiment. They do not expect Trump to prevent Netanyahu from building in the settlements or, from the other direction, to act in a way that would halt the chance for a two-state solution. Netanyahu would have to push for that, they say.

Trump told Netanyahu during Wednesday’s press conference at the summit: “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

In a statement, the Knesset’s Land of Israel Caucus praised what it called the “end of the two-state era.” The caucus is headed by MK Yoav Kish (Likud) and MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi).

Separately, Smotrich sounded less enthusiastic, conveying a message similar to that of the local-council heads. “It’s our turn to decide, and our obligation to do what’s best for the State of Israel,” Smotrich said.

“The time has come to abandon the crazy idea of dividing the land. It seems from the meeting that no time is more appropriate to fulfill the elected government’s vision. The time has come for sovereignty.”

The head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, David Elhayani, said he had heard that Trump agreed on a key plank on the right.

“The meeting proved to those who still needed bolstering that the Jordan Valley will be under Israeli control in any agreement,” Elhayani’s office said in a statement. “The prime minister presented and set this condition, and the matter became the central issue of their meeting.”

In a statement Thursday, the Yesha Council of settlements also tried to outflank Netanyahu on the right; it says Netanyahu should not use as an excuse Trump’s request to moderate construction in the settlements.

“After eight years of freeze and severe limitations on Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria, this is the right time for the Israeli government to act according to the principles on which it was elected: to return to widespread building in all parts of the Land of Israel and to make up all the shortages in construction that were created in recent years,” the Yesha Council said.

“We are certain that the prime minister will meet this test successfully, too.”

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