Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held his second meeting this week with US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, on Thursday for further discussions that focused heavily on West Bank settlements but apparently failed to reach and agreement.
Netanyahu and Greenblatt 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 statement from Netanyahu’s office issued after the three-hour meting.
“Those discussions are continuing between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office,” it said.
The discussions also explored prospects for renewing peace talks and bolstering the Palestinian economy.
Channel 2 TV reported that Netanyahu made clear to Greenblatt during the meeting that there would be no political possibility of freezing settlement activity, implying that he would not have his coalition’s backing.
Netanyahu and the Trump White House have been trying to reach an understanding on Israeli settlement activity since last month’s meeting between the Israeli leader and the US president, who in a joint press conference told Netanyahu that he wanted him to “hold back” on the settlements.
The issue figured prominently during the first meeting between Greenblatt and Netanyahu on Monday, which lasted over five hours.
Greenblatt later tweeted that they had not failed to reach an agreement, but “continue to work to make progress.”
Netanyahu has been trying to get the White House’s approval for the construction of a new settlement — the first in some 25 years — to replace the illegal outpost of Amona, which was evacuated and demolished last month.
Last month, he indicated to members of his security cabinet that the government may have to back off the pledge, drawing vociferous protests from the settlers and their allies in the coalition.
Before the meeting with Greenblatt on Thursday, Netanyahu vowed that he would fulfill his promise to Amona residents to establish the new settlement.
Channel 10 reported that Trump was understanding of Netanyahu’s political needs in pushing for a new Amona settlement, believing that he would not have said so publicly otherwise.
The Israeli prime minister has also been actively trying to avoid friction on other fronts related to settlements, pushing to postpone a Knesset committee vote next week on a bill that calls to annex the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.
Channel 10 reported that it would now be up to Greenblatt and Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, to hammer out a coordinated position.
Earlier Thursday, Greenblatt sat down for an unprecedented session with a delegation from the settler umbrella group the Yesha Council, led by Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi — a meeting that according to Channel 2 was coordinated with Netanyahu.
Ahead of that meeting, head of the Shomron Regional Council Yossi Dagan reportedly told Likud ministers before Greenblatt’s trip that reining in settlement construction, or a partial freeze of settlements would lead to political crisis, Channel 2 reported, adding that the settler movement has argued that the freeze imposed by the administration of former president Barack Obama constituted “a breach of their human rights.”
A statement from the Yesha Council following the meeting with Greenblatt described it as “fruitful and positive,” and added that the council “looks forward to continuing this important dialogue.”
Channel 10 reported that all the officials are figures who met with Greenblatt over the past several days see determination to make progress on a regional basis, with talk of a possible regional conference and that possible White House efforts to get Israel to rein in settlements will come into play then.
Netanyahu said earlier Thursday that Israel was “in the middle of a process of dialogue with the White House and it is our intention to get to an agreed-upon policy on construction in the settlements.” He noted that it was preferable to reach such understandings quickly rather than engaging in drawn-out negotiations.
“To the residents of Amona I say again: I made a commitment to you to establish a new community and I stand by this commitment,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting.
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