After announcing Thursday that a new West Bank settlement will be built for the evacuated residents of Amona, in addition to approving 2,000 of new settlement housing units, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled the Israeli government's understandings with US President Donald Trump on curtailing its settlement expansion. The new settlement will be the first to be built within 20 years.
In a statement issued Friday, Netanyahu stated that "out of consideration to President Donald Trump's position, Israel will take necessary steps to minimize the expansion of developed area beyond the footprint of existing settlements in Judea and Samaria and exhibit considerable restriction, to allow the progression of the peace process. Israel will build within the existing developed area, as much as possible."
The statement added that "In areas where this is not possible, Israel will build along the existing development line. In areas where neither of these possibilities are feasible, due to legal, security, topographical or additional concerns, Israel will allow building in proximity as close as possible to the existing development line."
Furthermore, it was stated that Israel will not allow the erection of any unapproved settlements. Netanyahu has reportedly updated the Security Cabinet of the new, abovementioned policy.
In addition, Netanyahu updated the Security cabinet that 2,000 housing units out of the 5,700 units, whose building the government had announced two months ago, have been approved for living.
The Amona Headquarters responded positively to the announcement of the new settlement. "The memory of the settlement of Amona will remain in our hearts forever. We love you oh homeland, and so we swear on this day to return to the land of Amona. Either we will or our sons after us—you don't leave a homeland. Ever since Amona was destroyed we have only asked for one thing—the pioneering Zionist mission of founding a new settlement in the Land of Israel, for us and all the people of Israel."
They added that "instead of the flower that was trampled we will plant one hundred flowers. Instead of the tree that was cut down we will plant one hundred trees. Instead of the life that was taken we will create a new life. A life of children's laughter and the talk of the elderly. A life of Torah and culture, friendly parties and good deeds. A life of giving and prosperity and bloom. A full Israeli life of a people building its land."
The White House pointedly avoided any specific condemnation of the announcement, although it said that further settlement activity "does not help advance peace" and that it expects Israel to show restraint moving forward. Still, the relatively tepid response was a far cry from the automatic condemnations voiced by the Obama's administration in reaction to Israeli settlement announcements. The White House statement even went so far as to "welcome" what appears to be a limited Israeli commitment to take Trump's concerns about settlements into "consideration," without any guarantees to avoid similar announcements.
In December, weeks before Trump was inaugurated, President Barack Obama allowed the UN Security Council to pass a resolution that declared all settlements in both areas to be illegal. Trump condemned the decision at the time.
On the campaign trail, Trump indicated he would be far more sympathetic to settlements than Obama and the international community, which consider Israeli construction on occupied land to be illegal. His platform made no mention of an independent Palestinian state, and his inner circle includes strong supporters of the settlement movement.
But since taking office, Trump has appeared to change his position, telling an Israeli newspaper last month that settlements "may not be helpful" and telling Netanyahu at the White House that he would like to see some restraint. Since then, Israel and the US have been in talks over what kind of construction the White House would tolerate.
A White House official sought to play down Thursday's Israeli announcement, saying Netanyahu made his promise to the Amona settlers before Trump laid out his vision. But the official, who agreed to discuss the matter on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about it, signaled that the White House would take a tougher line down the road.
"As the administration has made clear: While the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace," the official said. "The Israeli government has made clear that going forward, its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the president's concerns into consideration. The United States welcomes this."
White House envoy Jason Greenblatt has already made two visits to the region, including attending an Arab summit in Jordan this week. In hopes of renewing peace talks for the first time since 2014, the official said the White House will continue to work with all sides "to create a climate that is conducive to peace."
"We hope that the parties will take reasonable actions moving forward that create a climate that is conducive to peace," he said.
Over 600,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. But Israel has not built a full-fledged new settlement since the 1990s. Instead, construction during that period has expanded existing settlements or taken place in unauthorized outposts like Amona. The Israeli government has recently passed legislation aimed at legalizing dozens of those outposts.
Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi condemned the new settlement approval and called for international intervention.
"Today's announcement once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace," she said. "It is time that all members of the international community serve the cause of peace and justice and bring Israel to cease and desist its unlawful settlement activities and illegal unilateralism once and for all."
(Translated and edited by Gahl Becker)