Netanyahu says Israel will limit settlement expansion as gesture to Trump


TEL AVIV (JTA) — Israel will curb construction as a gesture to President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his top ministers.

In a security cabinet meeting Thursday night, Netanyahu said any future construction would be limited to existing settlement boundaries or adjacent to them. Israel will also prevent the construction of any new illegal outposts, he said.

“This is a very friendly administration and we need to be considerate of the president’s requests,” Netanyahu told the security cabinet, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Also Thursday, the security cabinet approved the first new settlement in decades for families evicted from the razed West Bank outpost of Amona. The newly declared limitations will not apply to that settlement, which Netanyahu promised Amona residents ahead of their forced evacuation in February.

Netanyahu’s announcement comes as Trump apparently seeks to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which he has said his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, would help broker. Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s international envoy and also an Orthodox Jew, has traveled in recent weeks to the Middle East for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

On Thursday, Greenblatt held meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the the foreign ministers of Qatar and Egypt on the sidelines of the Arab League summit in Jordan. Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi also reportedly huddled to coordinate their positions ahead of their meetings with Trump at the White House in coming weeks.

Arab leaders concluded the summit by stressing the importance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

According to anonymously sourced Israeli media reports, Greenblatt told Netanyahu during talks in Israel earlier this month that Trump wanted substantial restriction on settlement construction. Netanyahu reportedly expressed reservations about the proposal, particularly an official moratorium on construction outside the major settlements, mainly because of anticipated opposition from within his right-wing government.

The Prime Minister’s Office subsequently denied the reports, but no understandings were announced.

When Netanyahu visited the White house in February, Trump said he would like to see Israel “hold back on settlements a little bit.” Earlier in the month, Trump said settlement expansion “may not be helpful” in achieving peace.

An anonymous White House official told The Times of Israel on Thursday that Trump just wanted the settlements not to get any bigger.

“President Trump has publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements,” the official said. “As the administration has made clear: While the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace.”

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