Israel says will try to curb settlement growth
Jerusalem — Israel will limit new settlement construction in the West Bank “when possible” to within areas already developed or at least to contiguous areas, President Benjamin Netanyahu’s government announced as a gesture to President Donald Trump as it approved the first new settlement in the territory in two decades.
With the new policy, the government said it would attempt to exercise some restraint in expanding the physical footprint of settlements, though it did not specify any slowdown in construction. Israeli media on Friday reported Netanyahu announced the guidelines at a meeting the night before where his cabinet also approved the new settlement.
Netanyahu had promised to build the new settlement to replace Amona, a settlement outpost built on private Palestinian land that was dismantled in February following an Israeli Supreme Court ruling. Pro-settler hard-liners who dominate his coalition and oppose Palestinian statehood on security or religious grounds had pressed him to keep that promise.
But Netanyahu also faces pressure from Trump to rein in settlement construction to help revive the stalled peace process with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu told ministers to take Trump’s position “into consideration,” calling for restraint to be shown “to allow progress in the peace process.”
Under the guidelines, new construction would be built “within existing developed areas, when possible.” If that is not possible then it would be allowed adjacent to already built-up areas. If that also is not possible “because of legal, security or topological constraints,” building would be permitted as close as possible to existing construction.
White House envoy Jason Greenblatt has already made two visits to the region, meeting with Israelis and Palestinians and attending an Arab summit in Jordan this week. Greenblatt has been working with the Israelis on a series of understandings over settlement construction in hopes of restarting peace talks that collapsed over two years ago — in part over the thorny issue of settlements.
A White House official sought to play down the announcement Thursday of the new settlement, saying Netanyahu made his promise to the Amona settlers before Trump laid out his vision. But the official, who agreed to discuss the matter on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about it, signaled that the White House would take a tougher line down the road.
The Palestinians claim the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas captured by Israel in 1967 as parts of a future state.
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