Israel will adopt a policy of limiting new construction in West Bank settlements to within the boundaries of areas that have already been built upon or in some specific cases precisely adjacent to them, Prime Minister Netanyahu said at a security cabinet meeting late Thursday night
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A minister who was present at the meeting and requested to remain anonymous said Netanyahu informed the cabinet that despite several weeks of discussions on the issue, no understandings have yet been reached between Israel and the United States regarding settlement construction and that the differences between the sides remained unchanged.
However, Netanyahu said he had decided to respond to U.S. President Donald Trump's reservations regarding the settlements by unilaterally adopting a policy of restrained construction that will almost exclusively include building in already-developed areas of existing settlements to avoid appropriating new land or expanding the territory of established settlements.
"There are no understandings with the Americans and this wasn't agreed one with the administration, but rather these are restrictions that Israel is taking upon itself in response to the president's request," said the minister. "In any case, the 'payment' to the Americans isn't over."
Another senior source who also requested to remain anonymous said Netanyahu told the cabinet ministers that out of consideration for Trump's positions, Israel will take significant steps to reduce, in so much as possible, the expansion of existing settlement territory beyond already-developed areas and that this too would be significantly restricted to allow for the progress of a peace process.
At the meeting, Netanyahu presented four main points outlining Israel's new policy in the settlements:
1. Israel will continue construction, when permissible, within previously developed areas.
2. Where this is not permissible, Israel will allow construction in areas adjacent to those already developed.
3. Where neither of these criteria are met, due to legal, security or topographical constraints, Israel will allow construction on the closest land possible to developed areas.
4. Israel will not allow the creation of any new illegal outposts.
A second minister who participated in the meeting said that Netanyahu said no understanding had been reached in the talks with the White House and that, in effect, the sides had decided "to agree to disagree."
However, Israel unilaterally agreed to adopt a policy that would take into consideration Trump's concerns that continued construction in the settlements would expand its West Bank territory to a point that would prevent the creation of a Palestinian country in the future.
"This isn't an agreement with the Americans, but rather unilateral policy by the government of Israel," said the second minister. "The Americans said that they don't agree with construction in the settlements in any case, but that they can live with it and there won't be an international crisis over every new home that's built."
Netanyahu told the ministers in the meeting that he believes Israel should limit construction in a show of good will toward Trump.
"This is a very friendly administration and we need to take his requests into consideration," Netanyahu told the ministers. No vote was taken during the meeting, but all the ministers agreed to the policy of restrained construction and there were no arguments or conflicts between Netanyahu and any of the ministers.
"This is moderate, reasonable policy," said one of the cabinet ministers. "There's no limit on the number of housing units and no distinction between the blocs and the solitary settlements. It will be possible to build, but in a gradual and measured way and without taking more and more hills."
Netanyahu's announcement of new policy came as the cabinet approved the construction of a new settlement for the first time in over 20 years, in part to house those evacuated from the illegal outpost of Amona in February.
A White House official told Haaretz that Netanyahu had informed the Trump administration that he intended to stand by his commitment to build this new settlement, but that a new policy would then be adopted that would restrict new construction in consideration of Trump's concerns.
Over the past few weeks, Netanyahu mostly kept the minister's in the dark on the details of the talks with the American government and managed them with only his closest advisors. The only minister who was briefed was Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who had to know because the Civil Administration, which is responsible for planning and building in the settlements, is under his authority.
Last week, Netanyahu's senior advisors held four days of talks in Washington with U.S. envoy Jason Greenblatt and his team, but didn't succeed in reaching a final understanding. However, in a joint statement released by the two sides at the end of the round of talks, they said that Israel is prepared, in principle, to restrict construction in the settlements in consideration of Trump's desire to push forward with a peace process.
Israel's umbrella organization for settlers, the Yesha Council, responded to the news, but did not attack the decision. "In wake of the decision and despite some restrictions, the understandings reached between the governments of Israel and the U.S. administration permit the continued settlement construction in all the communities in Judea and Samaria, and even the establishment of a new settlement for the residents of Amona," the council said.
"The true test will be the immediate renewal of planning and development throughout the settlements. We will stand guard and work to make sure that the Israeli government will actualize this plan," they said.