In second week of U.S.-Israel talks, Trump ‘concerns’ on settlements remain

Jason Greenblatt, left, meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — After a lengthy session of U.S.-Israel talks, Israeli negotiators said they would take into account Trump administration “concerns” about settlement building, a sign that the issue continues to dog relations between the countries.

The joint statement released Thursday night after four days of talks between top officials said the issues are “exceptionally complicated,” a signal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s optimism about a renewed diplomatic closeness with the United States after eight years of tension with the Obama administration may be fading.

“The United States delegation reiterated President Trump’s concerns regarding settlement activity in the context of moving towards a peace agreement,” the statement said. “The Israeli delegation made clear that Israel’s intent going forward is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes those concerns into consideration.”

While the statement mentioned progress in areas like facilitating economic growth in the West Bank and allowing humanitarian relief into the Gaza Strip, it was clear the settlements issue is far from resolved.

“The talks were serious and constructive, and they are ongoing,” the statement said.

Leading the talks were Jason Greenblatt, a longtime adviser to President Donald Trump whom he has tapped to oversee the renewal of peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Yoav Horowitz, Netanyahu’s chief of staff, and Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

The talks come after Greenblatt’s visit to the region last week, which featured two long meetings with Netanyahu and a meeting with Palestinian leaders. Trump last month asked Netanyahu, during a press conference at an otherwise friendly White House summit, to stop settlement building for the time being. Netanyahu, earlier Thursday, denied reports that the Trump administration wanted a settlement freeze.

Reports have suggested that the Trump team is ready to be less censorious on settlements than the Obama administration, countenancing for instance building in eastern Jerusalem and in settlements that likely would be annexed to Israel in a final status agreement.

Netanyahu, under pressure from his government’s right flank, wants room to continue building in other areas as well.