Netanyahu: Israel, Trump at Odds Over Settlements, 'Things Are Not as Simple as You Think'

At heated closed Likud meeting, prime minister describes Trump presidency as 'historic opportunity,' but says Israel should know its limits.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Trump and Netanyahu during a news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., February 15, 2017.
Trump and Netanyahu during a news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., February 15, 2017.Credit: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Likud lawmakers on Monday that Israel and the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump are at odds over the construction of West Bank settlements. "Things are not as simple as you think," he said.

"There are no understandings [between Israel and Trump] about construction" in West Bank settlements, Netanyahu told fellow Likud members at a closed meeting. "We will develop a mechanism to try to reach understandings [but] on this specific issue, there is no agreement."

Following his meeting with Trump earlier this month, Netanyahu told reporters that he was willing to examine with the Trump administration the matter of reining in West Bank settlement construction, as the U.S. president had requested. "It is worth making an effort," Netanyahu said in his White House remarks.

Several sources described a vocal debate at the Likud Knesset meeting, with heated argument between lawmakers who support Israeli annexation of the West Bank and those who seek a withdrawal from most of the occupied territories along with security arrangements.

In his comments, Netanyahu addressed remarks by lawmaker Miki Zohar, who suggested that Israel is faced with a "historic opportunity" with Trump's election. Zohar told Netanyahu that there was "no doubt" that Trump "appreciates every position that you (Netanyahu) hold." He said that the prime minister could push for a one-state solution if he so wished.

For her part, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely demanded that Netanyahu, who also serves as foreign minister, tell the Likud parliamentarians what he agreed to with Trump on building in settlement blocs.

Netanyahu said he agrees that Trump's presidency is "historic," but noted that "we should know what the limits of this opportunity are."

"Things are not as simple as you think," he said. Speaking about his recent trip to Australia, the prime minister noted: "I told them that there is no alternative to Israeli security control west of the Jordan River, with or without an agreement. And if they say it does not mesh with [Palestinian] sovereignty, too bad!"

"If they (the Palestinians) recognize Israel and renounce the right of return [to Israel], this is the sort of agreement we could reach," the prime minister said, adding that the question was what kind of Palestinian state should be envisioned, one like Costa Rica or Iran.

According to individuals in attendance at the meeting of Likud legislators, Zohar said the Palestinians want economic prosperity, not a state. When asked where Palestinians would vote if they did not receive a state, Zohar reportedly suggested that the prospect that Palestinians would be participating in Knesset elections is a slogan being plied by the left wing. East Jerusalem Palestinians, he noted, have opted not to vote in Israel, a reference to Jerusalem municipal elections that they have boycotted.

Lawmaker Oren Hazan countered that giving the Palestinians Israeli citizenship is a worse prospect. On the situation in Gaza, he suggested that international forces be allowed into the territory, which he said would show the world what is really happening there.

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