Netanyahu Hints Israel Set to Approve New West Bank Settlement Thursday

As ministers to be briefed on talks with U.S. administration on settlement construction, Netanyahu says he will keep his promise to establish a new settlement for Amona evacuees.

Portable homes being removed from Amona, an illegal settlement in the West Bank, February 6, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted on Thursday that the security cabinet will approve the establishment of a new settlement in the West Bank for the evacuees of Amona.

"I have promised in the first place that we would establish a new settlement," Netanyahu said at the start of his meeting with Slovak President Andrej Kiska. "I think I made the first commitment in December, and we will hold it today. [In] a few more hours you will have all the details."

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In an agreement Netanyahu signed with Amona's ex-residents, the prime minister promised that if they would be removed from the outpost, a new settlement would be established and construction would begin by March 31. The outpost had been evacuted on February 2 under a court order.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem March 26, 2017.
POOL/REUTERS

The former Amona residents, however, said they did not deem Netanyahu's plans to construct a new neighborhood near the settlement of Shvut Rachel as fulfilling their agreement and would therefore not move to the new neighborhood. The ex-residents have been demanding an entirely new community, which they have said should be established on a hill known as Givat Geulat Tzion near the Shiloh settlement bloc. The location is near Shvut Rachel, but beyond the borders of the existing settlements there.

The security cabinet is convening on Thursday to get updates regarding the discussions with the Trump administration about a formula for restricting construction in the settlements, as well as for a broader discussion about the Palestinian issue. A senior Israeli official said that it was the first time the ministers would be getting an update on talks with the White House on settlements since they began three weeks ago.

The senior official added that at this point there are still disagreements with the administration about settlement construction. One of the central issues being discussed is the establishment of a new settlement for Amona's ex-residents.

An unnamed cabinet minister said that Netanyahu will likely ask the cabinet in Thursday's meeting to greenlight the building of a replacement settlement for Amona's ex-residents, in light of his commitment to do so by the end of March.

In recent weeks, Netanyahu has kept his ministers in the dark about the content of discussions with the U.S. administration, conducting them solely with his closest advisers. The only minister to receive regular updates has been Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, since the coordination of government activity in the territories and the Civil Administration, which is responsible for planning and construction in the settlements, are both under his authority.

A few days ago Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett met in Washington with American envoy Jason Greenblatt to discuss settlement construction. On Wednesday night, Bennett tweeted that “economic peace in the field” should be on the agenda, and not withdrawals or transfers of territory. “A Palestinian state will flood us with refugees,” Bennett wrote. “There are already Palestinian states in Gaza and Jordan. There’s no need for a third.”