Bennett disappointed by Trump’s settlement policies

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett on Monday expressed some disappointment with the White House, saying the election of Donald Trump has not brought about the boom in West Bank settlement construction many had expected.

Education Minister Bennett, whose eight-seat Orthodox-nationalist party is part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, said the settler movement expected a building boom after Trump’s election. Many members of the president’s inner circle, including his son-in-law and chief Mideast envoy Jared Kushner, have close ties to the settler movement.

But Trump has instead urged Israel to restrain construction as he tries to restart peace talks.

“Unfortunately from our perspective, he’s sort of going down the same unsuccessful path that his predecessors did,” Bennett said. “So yes, there is disappointment out there.”

Settler leaders have in recent months tempered their initial euphoria at Trump’s election.

Much of the Israeli right anticipated Trump would give Israel a freer hand in the West Bank than had his predecessor, Barack Obama. Bennett himself once welcomed Trump’s election by announcing: “The era of a Palestinian state is over.”

But since being elected, Trump has backed off his pledge to move the US Embassy in Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and made moves toward the final status agreement he has said he wants to broker between Israel and the Palestinians.

In April the government announced that settlement construction would be largely restricted to developed areas of existing Jewish communities in the West Bank. Where security or topography prevented this, new homes would be built as close as possible to the developed areas. Israel will not allow the creation of any new illegal outposts.

US President Donald Trump, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after giving final remarks at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem before Trump's departure, May 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu told his top ministers that the policy was a goodwill gesture to Trump, who said settlement expansion “may not be helpful” in achieving peace and asked Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements a little bit.”

Some right-wing lawmakers have worried that the restrictions amount to a suspension of settlement building.

“You need to understand that people built up an expectation that there would be a new president, the old era would end, and we’d be able to do whatever we want,” Yesha Council foreign envoy Oded Revivi told JTA at the time. “All of a sudden, reality doesn’t look like our expectations.”

Earlier this month settler leadership criticized what it said was an insufficient number of construction projects advanced by the Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee.

Leaders said approved homes failed to meet the high demand by the growing settler population.

Settler representatives later had what they said was a “positive” meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though they did not name any concrete gains.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has said that settlement building numbers were the highest they have been in over 20 years, and warned that clamoring for more construction could bring the whole enterprise tumbling down.

He said 8,345 units have been okayed since the beginning of the calendar year, terming the figures “the maximum.”

The figures were similar to those published by settlement watchdog Peace Now last week. Counting plans and tenders, Peace Now said 7,721 units had been advanced this year, almost triple the number for all of 2016, which amounted to 2,699.

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