Monday 19 March 2018

Israel vows to limit new settlements in gesture to Trump

Israeli Arabs take part in a ‘Land Day’ rally in Deir Hanna, Galilee region, Israel. Photo: Reuters/Ammar Awad
Israeli Arabs take part in a ‘Land Day’ rally in Deir Hanna, Galilee region, Israel. Photo: Reuters/Ammar Awad

Ian Deitch

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 US 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 yesterday reported Mr Netanyahu announced the guidelines at a meeting the night before, where his cabinet also approved the new settlement.

Mr 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 Mr Netanyahu also faces pressure from Mr Trump to rein in settlement construction to help revive the stalled peace process with the Palestinians.

Mr Netanyahu told ministers to take Mr 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 made two visits to the region, meeting with Israelis and Palestinians and attending an Arab summit in Jordan.

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