The Israeli government and the White House did not hold “formal negotiations” over settlement construction in the West Bank, an administration official said on Sunday, contradicting media reports.
Speaking to Israel-based English language news website the Times of Israel, the official said: “I would dissuade you from the notion that there is some set of formal negotiations regarding settlements. We continuously discuss a range of issues, including how to improve the overall climate.”
The comments came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the government would slow down construction of settlements, meaning Jewish communities in the West Bank, saying this would suit President Donald Trump’s administration, which Netanyahu described as “very friendly” toward the Jewish state.
Last week, Jerusalem announced the construction of a new settlement for former residents of Amona, a West Bank Jewish community that was razed by order of Israel’s highest court.
The new settlement would be the first since the early 1990s, but existing communities have been expanded to account for natural population growth since then.
In the Israeli government’s announcement on settlement construction over the weekend, Netanyahu said that Israel would build along existing community-perimeter lines and only expand settlements where there is no other option.
The policy is in keeping with the Israeli view that the so-called major settlement blocs – larger towns adjacent to major Israeli cities – will remain in Israel’s hands in any future agreement.
On Sunday, Israel Radio reported that US efforts to convince Israel to limit settlement construction were led by Trump’s Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, but the official speaking to the Times of Israel said the report was “inaccurate.”
Greenblatt has visited the region twice since the beginning of the Trump presidency.
During his two visits he met with top officials on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides but also surprised many by holding meetings with local civilians, Israeli settlers and Palestinians living in the West Bank.