Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday met with US President Donald Trump’s peace envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt, following reports earlier in the day that the US would soon announce a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Also present at the meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office were US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, the PMO said in a statement.
Earlier Wednesday, the pan-Arabic Al-Hayat daily reported that the US intends to facilitate talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which Trump will “soon” be calling for.
The daily quoted Greenblatt as telling a senior Palestinian official on Tuesday that Israel had agreed to “slow down” settlement construction during formal negotiations between Palestinians and Israel.
Netanyahu’s office denied the report, saying, “There is no such commitment” to freeze settlement building.
According to the report, the thorny final status issues will be negotiated separately from the “open negotiations” Trump is seeking. These include Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, borders, water and security.
On Tuesday, Greenblatt, Friedman and US Consul General Donald Blum met in Jerusalem with a Palestinian team, which included chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, PA intelligence chief Majid Faraj and the head of the Palestinian Investment Fund, Mohammed Mustafa.
Settlements have long been one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the Palestinians and much of the international community saying that their expansion threatens the territorial continuity of a future Palestinian state.
In March, Israel agreed to self-imposed restrictions on new settlement construction in what was seen as a gesture to the Trump administration after months-long negotiations between the two sides failed to yield any formal understanding on the matter.
The White House at the time said it “welcomed” the curb, also cautioning Israel against engaging in large-scale construction projects.
As part of the restrictions, Jerusalem agreed not to construct any new settlements or illegal outposts, while also limiting new building to inside existing settlement boundaries. However, if legal, security or topographical limitations do not allow adherence to those guidelines, new homes will be built outside the current settlement boundaries but as close as possible to them.
Netanyahu’s announcement in March of the new limitations, which he reportedly said were made in order to “be considerate of the [US] president’s requests,” came after the security cabinet voted unanimously to approve a new settlement for the evacuees of the illegal Amona outpost north of Ramallah. The planned settlement would be the first new settlement in the West Bank since the 1993 Oslo Accords.
Israel on Wednesday denied that it had agreed to a slowdown in settlement construction as part of any future peace talks.
The denial came after the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat quoted Jason Greenblatt — US President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process — telling a senior Palestinian official on Tuesday that Israel had agreed to “slow down” settlement construction during formal negotiations between Palestinians and Israel, which Trump will “soon” be calling for.
The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was due to meet with Greenblatt Wednesday, denied the report, saying, “There is no such commitment” to freeze settlement building.
According to the report, the US intends to facilitate “open negotiations” between the two sides, in which the thorny final status issues will be negotiated separately. These include Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, borders, water and security.
Agreement reached on any of these issues would be “immediately announced” in order to create a “positive atmosphere.”
“If an agreement is reached on the border, it will be announced immediately, and if an agreement is reached on water, it will be announced as well,” the senior Palestinian official reportedly said.
Greenblatt arrived in Jerusalem Sunday for what a senior White House official described as “an interim visit as talks continue about potential next steps. President Trump has made it clear that working toward achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians is a top priority for him.”
On March 9, 2010, then-US vice president Joe Biden started a visit to Israel by asserting the administration’s “absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security.”
A few hours later, when it emerged that Israel had approved 1,600 new housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, he denounced “the substance and timing of the announcement,” fuming that it “runs counter to the constructive discussions that I’ve had here in Israel.” The next day, Biden doubled down: “At the request of President [Barack] Obama, I condemn it immediately and unequivocally.”
The crisis continued to grew over the next few days, with Israel’s ambassador in Washington being summoned to the State Department for a dressing down, secretary of state Hillary Clinton telephoning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to convey Obama’s anger, and the president’s chief of staff terming the dispute “a pimple on the ass of US-Israel friendship.”
Today, such DC-Jerusalem drama over Israeli plans to build houses in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem has become unimaginable. Indeed, since Donald Trump moved into the White House, the international community’s single-issue hyper-focus on Israeli settlements would seem to have been consigned to a past era.
Even the Europeans, who haven’t substantially changed their policies regarding settlements, have toned down their criticism, to some extent, of Israeli building beyond the pre-1967 Green Line.
To be sure, Trump in February asked Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit.” And White House and State Department spokespeople routinely reiterate the administration’s view that “unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance the peace process.”
And yet, whereas in the recent past, settlements were considered by many as the most important of all core issues, today they have been relegated to one of several bitterly disputed issues that need to be addressed if progress is to be made toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When Obama in his first year in office sought to restart peace talks, he pressured Israel into a nine-month settlement freeze. This inevitably turned it into a Palestinian precondition for entering negotiations with Israel — since the Palestinians cannot ask for less than the White House — and thus in many respects crowned it the king of all core issues, the key to unlocking the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.
Over eight years, the Obama White House consistently condemned almost every single brick Israel announced the intention to lay down for building outside the pre-1967 lines. The relentless disagreement reached record heights in December 2016, when the US abstained on, and thus allowed the passage of, a United Nations Security Council Resolution that affirmed that Israel’s settlement enterprise “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to … a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”
Israel accused the outgoing administration of planning what it termed an ambush against Israel, sparking the worst crisis in bilateral ties in years and insuring that the issue of settlements was firmly center stage.
And there it remained for a while even after Trump took office. Having donated $10,000 to Beit El and having tapped David Friedman, an outspoken advocate for the settlement movement, as his ambassador to Israel, it seemed that the new president’s approach to Israel’s presence in the West Bank would be fundamentally different than that of all his recent predecessors. Some settlers and their political advocates hailed him as a veritable messiah, whose arrival heralded an unprecedented building boom.
That has not happened, but while Trump asked Israel to rein in settlement expansion, he has not castigated existing settlements as an obstacle to peace. In a sharp contrast to the previous administration, the current White House appears to understand Netanyahu’s political predicament — as hawkish members of his coalition demand more settlement construction — and may even empathize with the settlers’ need for natural growth.
But as long as the Israeli government coordinates its moves with the White House and does not embarrass it, the Trump administration will likely refrain from denouncing Israel for plans to expand existing settlements.
This new wind from Washington is clearly being felt by the Palestinians. Tactically determined for the time being to stay on the US president’s good side, they have dropped the demand for a settlement freeze as precondition for talks without much arm-twisting. This shift alone powerfully underlines that Israel’s construction of homes in the West Bank is longer the central point of peace process deadlock.
Rather, the fixation on settlements has been superseded by a focus on a large portfolio of issues that need to be addressed in Trump’s bid for an accord he claims may “not be as difficult as people have thought.” To Ramallah’s great chagrin, those issues include incitement to violence and the Palestinian Authority’s payments to incarcerated terrorists and their families.
The Europeans have not adopted Trump’s more tolerant stance on settlement, still adhering to their traditional opposition to any Israeli building outside the Green Line. However, their formulaic responses to Israeli announcements of settlement expansions appear to have softened.
Just thought I'd share this link for little Charlie Gard. The parents lawyer was on F&F this morning, and asked for folks to sign a petition for precious Charlie. He said they wanted to try to reach 1 million signatures, as he has to present this petition in Court TOMORROW! God Bless this family, and this precious little baby boy trapped by a UK death panel!
"Petition to Save Charlie Gard: 10-month-old sentenced to death at London hospital"
About 458,000 sigs as of 1:30 Eastern as opposed to just over 300,000 earlier this morning.
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