Trump's Ambassador Told Netanyahu: Don't Go Overboard With Settlements

Netanyahu told settler leaders he had a four hour meeting with Greenblatt and Friedman; 3,000 new units likely to be approved soon

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman with his wife Tammy, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah, at the ambassador's residence, July 3, 2017.
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman with his wife Tammy, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sarah, at the ambassador's residence, July 3, 2017. POOL/REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a meeting with settlement leaders on Wednesday that Israel must uphold its commitment to the Trump administration to restrict settlement building in the West Bank, participants in the meeting at the Prime Minister's Office said.

Netanyahu boasted at the meeting with the heads of Council of Judea and Samaria that he had convinced the Americans to take the distinction between settlement blocs and isolated settlements off the table, they said.

Netanyahu told them that he met for four hours on Wednesday with U.S. President Donald Trump's envoy, Jason Greenblatt; the American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer. 

Netanyahu reviewed with them the different construction plans for the settlements that will likely be authorized by the Civil Administration's planning committee in its upcoming meeting. Netanyahu said that the committee, expected to convene after the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, it is expected to move ahead with plans for 3,000 settlement housing units.

One of the settlement leaders who was at the meeting with Netanyahu on Wednesday, said that the prime minister told them that at the end of his  meeting with the Americans, Friedman insinuated to the Israeli team not to go overboard in regards to pushing new construction in the settlements. Netanyahu quoted Friedman by using the Hebrew equivalent of "grasp all, lose all."

The PMO commented that Netanyahu brought up the Palestinians' refusal to condemn the atack on the Har Adar settlement the preceding day. The prime minister also expressed his opposition both to Palestinian calls to bring Israelis on criminal charges to the International Criminal Court  and to their joining Interpol.

"This is a move that violates agreements signed with Israel," Netanyahu told the Americans.  His office added that he said that the Palestinian leadership's actions over the past few days were seriously damaging the chances of achieving peace and that the Palestinians' recent diplomatic tactics would not go unanswered.

A number of settler leaders who were present at the meeting said the atmosphere was serious but courteous. The settler leaders stressed to Netanyahu that during the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency, plans for over 10,000 settlement housing units have been put on hold.

"We told Netanyahu that he is not meeting our expectations of him, especially after the change in the American adminstration," one of them said.

One of the participants, who asked to remain anonymous because it was a closed-door meeting, noted that Netanyahu tried to demonstrate the amount of American pressure he endured by quoting what senior Trump administration officials had told him and his advisers regarding the settlement building issue.

"Tell them what the Americans told you," Netanyahu said to his chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz. "You can be a pig but don't be a chazer,'" using a Yiddish term for pig which also refers to a person who is acting selfish.

Netanyahu said during the meeting that Trump is preparing an American plan to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. "He is liable to come and lay a piece of paper on the table," remarked Netanyahu. He added that Israel placed comprehensive limits on its settlements as part of understandings reached with the Trump administration. He added that the fact that Israel is upholding those understandings is what leads to the United States to avoid condemning Israel after decisions to advance settlement construction plans.

The prime minister promised the council heads that he would uphold the commitment he gave over five years ago to build 300 new units in the settlement of Beit El, as compensation for demolishing the so-called "Ulpana" homes. He remarked that he hoped that the matter would be decided upon at by the top planning council when it meets sometime in the next two weeks.

Some of the participants asked Netanyahu to advance various construction plans.

"Not everything is possible," said Netanyahu. "What doesn't happen now will happen in another three months," stressed the prime minister.

A participant at the meeting said that Netanyahu stressed that he's proceeding carefully in light of American involvement in the bid to advance a peace initiative. According to him, Netanyahu refused to commit to meeting settler demands to refurbish and install infrastructure in the West Bank, like roads, water lines and electricity. Netanyahu said that the planning committee would not meet until after the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and he did not promise what would be approved at the upcoming meeting, according to the source.

A senior security official told Haaretz earlier this week that housing units in Beit El and housing units for Migron residents would be approved at the meeting. The participant at the meeting said Netanyahu wouldn't promise this to the settlers and said that some of the construction that the settlers are demanding would be discussed at the coming meeting in January rather than at the upcoming meeting. 

MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) commented about the meeting, saying Netanyahu is the leading Israel to binational state. "If he indeed convinced the Americans, as he claimed, that 'there is no such thing as settlement blocs,' then he has mortally wounded years of diplomatic efforts that sought to achieve international recognition of Israel's settlement blocs, a recognition that even permeated into the negotiations with the Palestinians," she said.

"The place his policy is leading us is clear: a binational state, without a Jewish majority that will be the end of the Zionist enterprise for the price of pleasing his natural partners on the settlement right. Thus, we must not lend a hand."