PM Netanyahu and President Trump.
(photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)
Discussions with Washington over guidelines to govern Israel’s construction beyond the Green Line are continuing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, refuting various reports over the last few days about the contours of the agreement that indicated the US would demand Israel curtail settlement construction, especially beyond the security fence.
“I want to clarify that in these reports there are many things that are wrong,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “I will not go into the details, the talks between us and the White House are continuing, and I hope they will conclude quickly.”
Channel 2 reported on Saturday that, under an agreement hammered out last week in Washington, Netanyahu will be able to fulfill his pledge and build a new settlement for Amona evacuees, but then have to restrain settlement construction elsewhere and focus on construction in the large settlement blocs. Earlier last week, another report said the Americans were demanding that all construction beyond the fence cease, while Israel could continue to build inside the large settlement blocs according to certain guidelines.
Netanyahu’s remarks follow two weeks of high-level talks between Israeli and US officials looking for a formula that would be acceptable to both sides and would govern future building beyond the Green Line. Jerusalem is keen on reaching an agreement with Washington on the matter in the early days of the new administration to remove it as a constant irritant in the relationship, as it was during the Obama years.
Any agreement that would restrict construction anywhere, however, is likely to cause some political backlash from Bayit Yehudi, as well as from the right flank of the Likud faction.
Trump tells Israel to 'hold back on settlements' during meeting with Netanyahu at White House on Feb. 15, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)
During his comments before the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu also praised Britain for putting the UN Human Rights Council on notice on Friday that it would change its voting patterns in that body if it does not alter its bias against Israel.
“I think that this is an important sign that we would like to encourage the international community to follow,” Netanyahu said. “We think the time has come to change the distorted attitude toward Israel in international forums.”
Netanyahu said he thanked British Prime Minister Theresa May for this step during a conversation he had with her Friday, even before Britain delivered its unprecedented critique in the UNHRC. During that conversation, he expressed Israel’s condolences over the loss of life in the terrorist attack at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.
“I told her that we in Israel have withstood vehicular ramming and knifing attacks and understand that the terrorism that has hit us is the terrorism that is hitting London, Brussels, Nice and other places in the world,” he said. “This is the terrorism of extreme Islam, and we need to act against it together everywhere in order to defeat it. We will defeat it a lot faster if we act together.”
Turning to his recent trip to China, the prime minister said that during his four-day visit, some 25 Israeli companies signed deals valued at around $2 billion. “The main areas are health, agriculture, water and, of course, the investment of Chinese capital in Israeli funds,” he said.
The prime minister said China recently decided – for its own reasons – to halt external investment. However, Netanyahu said Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to consider an exemption of this policy concerning Israel, “meaning that Chinese investments in the hi-tech and other sectors would continue.”