By Ori Lewis
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he would honor his commitment to build a new settlement in the occupied West Bank, the first in two decades.
The Israeli leader made the remarks hours before meeting with Jason Greenblatt, U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy. Netanyahu said he hoped an agreement could be reached with Washington on future Israeli settlements on land Palestinians want for a state.
“To the settlers of Amona, I repeat, I gave you a commitment to build a new settlement and I will honor my commitment,” Netanyahu said in public remarks at the start of a cabinet meeting.
The Amona settlement, comprising some 40 homes, was built in 1995 without government authorization. It was razed last month after the Israeli supreme court ruled the homes must be removed because they were built on privately owned Palestinian land.
Netanyahu is under pressure from his far-right coalition partners to follow through on the promise to Amona’s residents. However, at a meeting in Washington, Trump asked him to “hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
“We are in talks with the White House and our intention is to reach an agreed policy for building in settlements which is agreeable to us, not only to the Americans,” Netanyahu said.
A new settlement would be the first built in the West Bank since 1999. Some 385,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank which is also home to 2.8 million Palestinians. Another 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem.
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen since 2014 and settlements are one of the most heated issues. Palestinians want the West Bank and East Jerusalem for their own state, along with the Gaza Strip.
Most countries consider Israeli settlements, built on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war, to be illegal. Israel disagrees, citing historical and political links to the land, as well as security interests.
In a rare meeting for a U.S. envoy, settler leaders said they met with Greenblatt on Thursday. On his first visit to the Middle East as Trump’s envoy, Greenblatt also met with Jordanian King Abdullah in Amman and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. His meeting with Netanyahu will be their second this week.
Abbas told the Qatari newspaper Al-Watan in an interview that Greenblatt did not make any proposals and had come to listen and report back to Trump.
“When we meet the American president there will be clear answers to the things he has heard from us and it should be enough for him to get a clear view … and propose suitable solutions,” Abbas was quoted as saying.
(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell, writing by Ori Lewis, editing by Larry King)