Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a delegation to Washington Saturday night for talks aimed at reaching a breakthrough between Israel and the United States on an agreement over restricting construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
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A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, noted that one of the main issues on the agenda was the Netanyahu government's desire to establish a new settlement for displaced residents of the evacuated unauthorized outpost of Amona.
The delegation, headed by the Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office, Yoav Horowitz, also includes Netanyahu's foreign policy adviser Jonathan Schachter and a lawyer from the PMO who deals with the settlements.
At the same time as the delegation flew off to Washington, Netanyahu left for an official visit to China.
The PMO kept Horowitz's visit to the United States a secret, only issuing an announcement after Haaretz made a query about it.
Horowitz, Schachter and Israel's Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, are expected to meet with Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s adviser on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and other senior administration officials at the White House. The meetings are a follow-up to the ones held in Jerusalem last week, during Greenblatt’s visit to the region.
According to the senior Israeli official, Greenblatt said during his visit that the guiding principle behind the desired understanding on restricting settlement construction should be a "slowdown." The exact meaning of the term in this context, however, has not yet been defined.
The Israeli source also said that despite the long hours of discussions last week, significant gaps remain between the parties, and no agreements have been reached over a coordinated Israeli-American policy on the settlements.
"Despite the fact that gaps remained vis-à-vis the Americans, Netanyahu does not believe that it constitutes a crisis and Horowitz did not depart with a sense of there being an emergency," said the official. He added that the consensus in the PMO is that an understanding on the issue can be reached with the Americans within a few weeks.
One of the main topics on the agenda is Netanyahu's commitment to build a new settlement for the evacuees of the illegal outpost of Amona, which was cleared out early February. Netanyahu made several public statements last week that he will uphold his promise. However, the White House has spoken out against new Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and as matters currently stand, Israel and the U.S. haven't reached an understanding that will allow a new settlement for the former Amona residents.
Though U.S. President Donald Trump hasn't demanded a complete freeze of settlement construction like his predecessor, Greenblatt did convey to Netanyahu in their talks last week that the president is seeking a formula that will include minimum settlement construction and will not go against American efforts at peace negotiations. A senior official with knowledge of Greenblatt's contacts in Israel said the envoy made it clear that Netanyahu must show that he's willing to take steps on curbing settlement construction and in other matters to prove his goodwill to advance the peace process.
Greenblatt and Netanyahu didn't manage to reach an understanding on settlement construction in their second meeting last Thursday.
"They made progress on the issue of Israeli settlement construction, following up on President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu's agreement in Washington last month to work out an approach that reflects both leaders' views," said a joint statement. "Those discussions are continuing between the White House and the Prime Minister's Office."