A soldier stands next to a bus stop with a pro-Trump poster near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A senior diplomatic official denied on Thursday that the US is demanding that Israel freeze all settlement construction beyond the West Bank security barrier.
The denial comes amid reports that this is what US President Donald Trump’s envoy Jason Greenblatt was demanding when he was in Israel last week for talks.
Greenblatt is leading the American team in talks with Israel over establishing guidelines that will govern Israeli construction in the settlements.
Those discussions continued this week in Washington, with the Israeli team including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz, foreign policy adviser Jonathan Schachter and Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.
According to the senior official, the reports about “Greenblatt’s visit to Israel and any purported US demands of Israel in talks regarding the settlements are false.”
Nevertheless, the reports already caused political waves, with both MK Yoav Kisch of the Likud and MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of Bayit Yehudi taking to the radio on Thursday morning to say that such a demand would be unacceptable. Bayit Yehudi’s MK Bezalel Smotrich posted on Twitter: “It seems like Trump really wants Netanyahu to fall. Weren’t they supposed to be friends?”
Greenblatt arrived in Israel more than two weeks ago to gauge the temperature on both sides of the peace process as the Trump administration prepares to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
On March 14, Greenblatt held a five-hour meeting with the premier, ending with Israel stating its commitment to finding a true, sustainable peace agreement and acknowledging the need to improve living conditions within the Palestinian Authority.
According to a statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, the two men affirmed the joint commitment of the US and Israel to advancing a “true, sustainable peace between Israel and the Palestinians that will strengthen Israel’s security and stability in the region.”
Greenblatt later met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, after which the Trump representative wrote on Twitter that their meeting was “positive” and “far-reaching,” and that they discussed forging a peace deal, stopping incitement and building the capacity of the PA security forces. •