WASHINGTON – There will be no limitations on building Jewish homes in the capital over the pre-1967 line, but a more cautious approach will be taken to West Bank settlement construction, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday after his meeting with US President Donald Trump.
“Building will continue in Jerusalem,” the prime minister told reporters during a briefing at Blair House, but as for Area C of the West Bank, where all the settlements are located, there is a question of how to proceed, he said.
Netanyahu neatly dodged reporter’s questions, as they tried to pin him down on the thorny issues raised during the joint press conference with Trump regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the issue of settlements.
It had been presumed that Netanyahu would pitch the idea to the president of continued building in heavily Jewish areas of Judea and Samaria, but he refused to say if he had done so and, instead, said that Israel and the Trump administration were still working toward reaching an understanding on the matter.
Trump tells Israel to 'hold back on settlements' during meeting with Netanyahu at White House on Feb. 15, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)
“We agreed to continue to talk about this,” he said.
Netanyahu did, however, seem to indicate that he would wait before asking the government to authorize the new settlement for the 40 families who were forcibly evacuated from the Amona outpost earlier this month.
“It’s one of the issues we are discussing [with the US administration],” Netanyahu said. “When you have a president fully supportive of Israel and with whom you see eye to eye on almost every issue, you have to respect his request to discuss the issue [first].”
The prime minister said he had made it very clear to Trump that Israel “unequivocally” supported the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Trump has not yet given him a commitment on the matter, but said he was studying the issue.
Netanyahu did not attempt to interpret Trump’s statement with respect to considering either a two-state or a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But in a manner similar to his statement in the press conference, he indicated that he remained committed to the two-state solution to the conflict.
The issue, the prime minister explained, is not whether one supports a two-state solution, but, rather, what one means when speaking of two states. “It depends on how you define it,” he said.
Netanyahu pointed out that Israelis and Palestinians often discuss the idea in very different terms, with the Palestinians refusing to accept that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. The Palestinians have also refused to accept a continued IDF presence in the West Bank.
“Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] doesn’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state and asks for an IDF withdrawal. That is not acceptable,” Netanyahu said.
The stakes are high here, he said, adding that without the IDF presence, there is a risk that the Palestinians would have a failed radicalized state. “I have to worry that it will not be a terror state,” he said. “If the IDF isn’t there, then what military would be placed there to protect it?” When asked about the possibility of annexation, Netanyahu spoke about the dangers of not having a Palestinian state. “My principle is this: I do not want to annex two million Palestinians; I do not have any interest in that.”
During the briefing, much like in the press conference that preceded it, Netanyahu unequivocally backed Trump as a leader who supports the Jewish people and the Jewish state.
“We do not have a greater friend than President Trump,” Netanyahu said.
It’s an endorsement that is likely to put him at odds with the American Jewish community, the majority of whom voted for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and who oppose Trump’s immigration policies.
American Jewish leaders were upset that Trump did not mention the six million Jews the Nazis killed when he issued a statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Netanyahu did not criticize Trump’s statement nor did he mention it during his meeting with Trump in the White House.
The issue was brought up in staff meetings between Israeli and American officials in advance of Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, the prime minister told reporters.
“There is no doubt that the president and his team understand the significance of the Holocaust” as a historical event that specifically targeted the Jewish people, Netanyahu said.
At their joint press conference, Trump ducked a question posed to him about antisemitism, but he did briefly reference the Holocaust in his opening remarks when he said, “The State of Israel is a symbol to the world of resilience in the face of oppression – I can think of no other state that’s gone through what they’ve gone – and of survival in the face of genocide. We will never forget what the Jewish people have endured.”
Netanyahu thanked Trump for his support and said, “Our alliance [with the US] has been remarkably strong, but under your leadership I’m confident it will get even stronger. I look forward to working with you to dramatically upgrade our alliance in every field – in security, in technology, in cyber and trade, and so many others.”
Netanyahu told reporters that with Trump in the White House, it was possible to “dramatically” strengthen and upgrade Israel’s ties with its greatest ally, the United States.
It’s a “new day” in Israel- US ties, Netanyahu said.
In a press release after the meeting, the White House echoed his words: “It is a new day for the United States-Israel relationship, defined by a responsible approach to the challenges and opportunities our two countries face in the Middle East.”