U.S. Asked Israel to Freeze Construction Outside Settlement Blocs, Israeli Source Says

Trump envoy offered Netanyahu deal to see America accept construction in Jerusalem, inside blocs during their meeting last week, Netanyahu expressed reservations at official freeze.

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.
HANDOUT/REUTERS

In his talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, U.S. envoy Jason Greenblatt asked that Israel cease building in isolated West Bank settlements outside of the settlement blocs, an Israeli source privy to the contents of the talks told Haaretz Wednesday.

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According to the source, during the talks, which took place in Israel last week, Greenblatt made it clear that the Trump administration wants Israel to place substantial restrictions on construction in the settlements.

Settlements map

According to the source, during the talks, which took place in Israel last week, Greenblatt made it clear that the Trump administration wants Israel to place substantial restrictions on construction in the settlements. The formula offered by Trump's team was also reported on Israel's Channel 2 News.

The source added that Greenblatt said that the U.S. would tacitly accept Israeli construction in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, as well as construction in settlement blocs within limits bilaterally agreed upon. That being said, the formula Greenblatt presented included an American request that Israel not build in settlements outside the settlement blocs at all, without exception.  

>>Explained: How Big an Obstacle Are Israeli Settlements to Peace?<<

Netanyahu expressed reservation at the American proposal, especially a public and official moratorium on settlement construction outside the settlement blocks. The main reason is that Netanyahu believes that he will have a hard time passing such a formula within his coalition in light of opposition from many Likud ministers, as well as those from the Habayit Hayehudi party.

The sides failed to reach an agreement and decided to continue talks on the different formulas in negotiations slated for Washington this week between Netanyahu and Greenblatt.

Netanyahu said Wednesday to journalists before he left China for Israel that there has been "significant progress" in recent talks between U.S. and Israeli negotiators in recent days regarding curbed settlement construction.

Netanyahu noted that talks have not ended despite the recent progress, which he will be updated on upon his return.

Talks between Israeli and American negotiators began in the White House on Monday in an effort to reach understandings concerning the settlements. Netanyahu told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday that talks will not touch on the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

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 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.