REPORT: US-ISRAEL TALKS ON SETTLEMENTS SUSPENDED AFTER NO PROGRESS MADE

 

Negotiations between Israel and the United States on limiting building in the settlements reportedly has been suspended after representatives of the two countries failed to reach an agreement.

Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s international envoy and an Orthodox Jew, has traveled in recent weeks to the Middle East for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

 

Representatives of the Netanyahu government, the prime minister’s chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, met in Washington late last month with Greenblatt to follow up on his meetings with Netanyahu in Israel earlier in the month.

Israel Radio reported on Sunday that the discussions between the Israeli envoys and Greenblatt had been suspended due to a lack of progress.

News of the suspension comes after Israel’s security cabinet on Thursday approved the first new settlement in decades for families evicted from the razed West Bank outpost of Amona, followed by Netanyahu saying at the same meeting that any future West Bank construction would be limited to existing settlement boundaries or adjacent to them, and that Israel will prevent the construction of any new illegal outposts.

On Thursday, Greenblatt held meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the foreign ministers of Qatar and Egypt on the sidelines of the Arab League summit in Jordan. Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi also reportedly huddled to coordinate their positions ahead of their meetings with Trump at the White House in coming weeks.

According to anonymously sourced Israeli media reports, Greenblatt told Netanyahu during talks in Israel earlier this month that Trump wanted substantial restriction on settlement construction. Netanyahu reportedly expressed reservations about the proposal, particularly an official moratorium on construction outside the major settlements, mainly because of anticipated opposition from within his right-wing government.

The Prime Minister’s Office subsequently denied the reports, but no understandings were announced.

When Netanyahu visited the White house in February, Trump said he would like to see Israel “hold back on settlements a little bit.” Earlier in the month, Trump said settlement expansion “may not be helpful” in achieving peace.

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Bill O’Reilly (White Freemason) Thrives at Fox News, Even as Harassment Settlements Add Up

For nearly two decades, Bill O’Reilly has been Fox News’s top asset, building the No. 1 program in cable news for a network that has pulled in billions of dollars in revenues for its parent company, 21st Century Fox.

Behind the scenes, the company has repeatedly stood by Mr. O’Reilly as he faced a series of allegations of sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior.

An investigation by The New York Times has found a total of five women who have received payouts from either Mr. O’Reilly or the company in exchange for agreeing to not pursue litigation or speak about their accusations against him. The agreements totaled about $13 million.

Two settlements came after the network’s former chairman, Roger Ailes, was dismissed last summer in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal, when the company said it did not tolerate behavior that “disrespects women or contributes to an uncomfortable work environment.”

The women who made allegations against Mr. O’Reilly either worked for him or appeared on his show. They have complained about a wide range of behavior, including verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O’Reilly was masturbating, according to documents and interviews.

The reporting suggests a pattern: As an influential figure in the newsroom, Mr. O’Reilly would create a bond with some women by offering advice and promising to help them professionally. He then would pursue sexual relationships with them, causing some to fear that if they rebuffed him, their careers would stall.

Of the five settlements, two were previously known — one for about $9 million in 2004 with a producer, and another struck last year with a former on-air personality, which The Times reported on in January. The Times has learned new details related to those cases.

Wendy Walsh had been a guest on “The O’Reilly Factor.” She said Mr. O’Reilly broke his promise to make her a contributor when she declined an invitation to his hotel suite in 2013. CreditChristina Gandolfo for The New York Times

The three other settlements were uncovered by The Times. Two involved sexual harassment claims against Mr. O’Reilly, and the other was for verbal abuse related to an episode in which he berated a young producer in front of newsroom colleagues.

Besides the women who reached settlements, two other women have spoken of inappropriate behavior by the host. A former regular guest on his show, Wendy Walsh, told The Times that after she rebuffed an advance from him he didn’t follow through on a verbal offer to secure her a lucrative position at the network. And a former Fox News host named Andrea Tantaros said Mr. O’Reilly sexually harassed her in a lawsuit she filed last summer against the network and Mr. Ailes.

Representatives for 21st Century Fox would not discuss specific accusations against Mr. O’Reilly, but in a written statement to The Times the company acknowledged it had addressed the issue with him.

“21st Century Fox takes matters of workplace behavior very seriously,” the statement said. “Notwithstanding the fact that no current or former Fox News employee ever took advantage of the 21st Century Fox hotline to raise a concern about Bill O’Reilly, even anonymously, we have looked into these matters over the last few months and discussed them with Mr. O’Reilly. While he denies the merits of these claims, Mr. O’Reilly has resolved those he regarded as his personal responsibility. Mr. O’Reilly is fully committed to supporting our efforts to improve the environment for all our employees at Fox News.”

According to legal experts, companies occasionally settle disputes that they believe have little merit because it is less risky than taking the matters to trial, which can be costly and create a string of embarrassing headlines.

The revelations about Mr. O’Reilly, 67, come after sexual harassment accusations against Mr. Ailes led to an internal investigation that found women at Fox News faced harassment. Current and former Fox News employees told The Times that they feared making complaints to network executives or the human resources department.

Mr. Ailes, who has denied the allegations against him, received $40 million as part of his exit package. The company has reached settlements with at least six women who accused Mr. Ailes of sexual harassment, according to a person briefed on the agreements.

At the time of Mr. Ailes’s departure, 21st Century Fox’s top executives, James and Lachlan Murdoch, the sons of the executive chairman, Rupert Murdoch, said the company was committed to “maintaining a work environment based on trust and respect.”

Since then, the company has struck two settlements involving Mr. O’Reilly, and learned of one Mr. O’Reilly reached secretly in 2011.

Growing Importance to Fox

Bill O’Reilly is an essential asset to Fox News. His No. 1 cable news show made about $178 million in advertising revenue in 2015, and gained viewers in the prelude to the election and since. Meanwhile, Fox News’s financial contribution to its parent company, 21st Century Fox, has also been growing.

The company declined to answer questions about whether Mr. O’Reilly had ever been disciplined.

Mr. O’Reilly has thrived since joining Fox News in 1996. He earns an annual salary of about $18 million as the host of “The O’Reilly Factor.” Every weeknight at 8 p.m., he presents a pugnacious, anti-political-correctness viewpoint and a fervent strain of patriotism that appeals to conservative viewers.

His value to the company is enormous. From 2014 through 2016, the show generated more than $446 million in advertising revenues, according to the research firm Kantar Media.

This is a sensitive time for Fox News as it continues to deal with the fallout of the Ailes scandal. The network is facing an investigation by the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, which is looking into how the company structured settlements. Fox News has said that neither it nor 21st Century Fox has received a subpoena but that they have “been in communication with the U.S. attorney’s office for months.”

Details on the allegations against Mr. O’Reilly and the company’s handling of them are based on more than five dozen interviews with current and former employees of Fox News and its former and current parent companies, News Corporation and 21st Century Fox; representatives for the network; and people close to Mr. O’Reilly and the women. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing confidentiality agreements and fear of retaliation. The Times also examined more than 100 pages of documents and court filings related to the complaints.

Ms. Walsh, the former guest on Mr. O’Reilly’s show, said his offer to make her a contributor never materialized after she declined an invitation to go to his hotel suite after a dinner in 2013. “I feel bad that some of these old guys are using mating strategies that were acceptable in the 1950s and are not acceptable now,” she said. “I hope young men can learn from this.”

She said romantic relationships at the workplace “should never happen when there is an imbalance of power and colleagues shouldn’t unwittingly be manipulated into obtaining sex for somebody.”

Just over a week ago, Mr. O’Reilly hired the crisis communications expert Mark Fabiani — who worked in the Clinton White House — to respond to The Times. In a statement, Mr. O’Reilly suggested that his prominence made him a target.

“Just like other prominent and controversial people,” the statement read, “I’m vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity. In my more than 20 years at Fox News Channel, no one has ever filed a complaint about me with the Human Resources Department, even on the anonymous hotline.

“But most importantly, I’m a father who cares deeply for my children and who would do anything to avoid hurting them in any way. And so I have put to rest any controversies to spare my children.

Below are five women who received payouts after accusing Bill O’Reilly of sexual harassment or verbal abuse. While the first dates back to 2002, two of the deals were struck in the months since the network’s chairman was dismissed last year. Combined, the settlements totaled about $13 million.

Rachel Witlieb Bernstein

Junior producer at Fox News

SETTLEMENT DATE2002

Andrea Mackris

A producer on “The O’Reilly Factor”

SETTLEMENT DATE2004

Rebecca Gomez Diamond

A host on Fox Business Network

SETTLEMENT DATE2011

Laurie Dhue

Anchor at Fox News

SETTLEMENT DATE2016

Juliet Huddy

On-air personality at Fox News

SETTLEMENT DATE2016

“The worst part of my job is being a target for those who would harm me and my employer, the Fox News Channel. Those of us in the arena are constantly at risk, as are our families and children. My primary efforts will continue to be to put forth an honest TV program and to protect those close to me.”

Fredric S. Newman, a lawyer for Mr. O’Reilly, said in a statement Friday evening, “We are now seriously considering legal action to defend Mr. O’Reilly’s reputation.”

Lurid Claims Burst Into View

Fox News has been aware of complaints about inappropriate behavior by Mr. O’Reilly since at least 2002, when Mr. O’Reilly stormed into the newsroom and screamed at a young producer, according to current and former employees, some of whom witnessed the incident.

Shortly thereafter, the woman, Rachel Witlieb Bernstein, left the network with a payout and bound by a confidentiality agreement, people familiar with the deal said. The exact amount she was paid is not known, but it was far less than the other settlements. The case did not involve sexual harassment.

Two years later, allegations about Mr. O’Reilly entered the public arena in lurid fashion when a producer on his show, Andrea Mackris, then 33, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him. In the suit, she said he had told her to buy a vibrator, called her at times when it sounded as if he was masturbating and described sexual fantasies involving her. Ms. Mackris had recorded some of the conversations, people familiar with the case said.

Ms. Mackris also said in the suit that Mr. O’Reilly, who was married at the time (he and his wife divorced in 2011), threatened her, saying he would make any woman who complained about his behavior “pay so dearly that she’ll wish she’d never been born.”

Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly adopted an aggressive strategy that served as a stark warning of what could happen to women if they came forward with complaints, current and former employees told The Times.

Before Ms. Mackris even filed suit, Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly surprised her with a pre-emptive suit of their own, asserting she was seeking to extort $60 million in return for not going public with “scandalous and scurrilous” claims about him.

“This is the single most evil thing I have ever experienced, and I have seen a lot,” he said on his show the day both suits were filed. “But these people picked the wrong guy.”

Andrea Mackris, a former producer at Fox News, sued Mr. O’Reilly in 2004 for sexual harassment. The case was settled for around $9 million. CreditChristopher Gregory for The New York Times

A public relations firm was hired to help shape the narrative in Mr. O’Reilly’s favor, and the private investigator Bo Dietl was retained to dig up information on Ms. Mackris. The goal was to depict her as a promiscuous woman, deeply in debt, who was trying to shake down Mr. O’Reilly, according to people briefed on the strategy. Several unflattering stories about her appeared in the tabloids.

After two weeks of sensational headlines, the two sides settled, and Mr. O’Reilly agreed to pay Ms. Mackris about $9 million, according to people briefed on the agreement. The parties agreed to issue a public statement that “no wrongdoing whatsoever” had occurred.

Settling Behind Closed Doors

In the years that followed, Mr. O’Reilly and Fox News dealt with sexual harassment allegations in private, striking agreements with three more women.

In 2011, Rebecca Gomez Diamond, who had hosted a show on the Fox Business Network — also supervised by Mr. Ailes — was told the network was not renewing her contract. Similar to Ms. Mackris, she had recorded conversations with Mr. O’Reilly, according to people familiar with the case. Armed with the recordings, her lawyers went to the company and outlined her complaints against him.

Ms. Diamond left the network, bound by a confidentiality agreement, and Mr. O’Reilly paid the settlement, two of the people said. The exact amount of the payout is not known.

Although that deal was made nearly six years ago, Fox News’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, learned of it only in late 2016 when it conducted an investigation into Fox News under Mr. Ailes’s tenure, according to another person familiar with the matter.

In the aftermath of Mr. Ailes’s ouster last summer, as 21st Century Fox was completing settlements and trying to put the scandal behind it, it reached deals with two women who had complained about sexual harassment by Mr. O’Reilly.

One was Laurie Dhue, a Fox News anchor from 2000 to 2008. Though Ms. Dhue had not raised sexual harassment issues during her tenure or upon her departure, her lawyers went to the company to outline her harassment claims against Mr. O’Reilly and Mr. Ailes, according to people briefed on the complaints. In response, 21st Century Fox reached a settlement with her for over $1 million, according to a person briefed on the agreement.

In September, 21st Century Fox reached a settlement worth $1.6 million with Juliet Huddy, who had made regular appearances on Mr. O’Reilly’s show, according to people familiar with the matter. Ms. Huddy’s lawyers had told the company that Mr. O’Reilly pursued a sexual relationship in 2011, at a time he exerted significant influence over her airtime.

Roger Ailes, the former chairman of Fox News, was ousted last summer after Gretchen Carlson, an anchor, accused him of sexual harassment. The network’s parent company later paid $20 million to settle the suit.CreditReed Saxon/Associated Press

Among Ms. Huddy’s complaints was that he made inappropriate phone calls, the lawyers said in correspondence obtained by The Times. The letter said that when he tried to kiss her, she pulled away and fell to the ground and he didn’t help her up.

When she rebuffed him, he tried to blunt her career prospects, the letter said.

Ms. Huddy was eventually moved to an early morning show on WNYW, an affiliate station, where she worked until she left the company in September.

Before Ms. Huddy reached an agreement with 21st Century Fox, Mr. Newman, Mr. O’Reilly’s lawyer, sent a letter to her lawyer outlining some embarrassing personal issues he said Ms. Huddy had. He stated that she would “face significant credibility concerns if she tries to pursue a claim against Mr. O’Reilly.” The letter, which was obtained by The Times, said that if she were to follow through with a claim against Mr. O’Reilly, he would pursue legal action “to hold Ms. Huddy, and all who have assisted her, personally liable for any damage suffered by him or his family.”

In January, when The Times and others reported on Ms. Huddy’s settlement, representatives for Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly dismissed the allegations.

Fox News is now in a legal battle with Ms. Tantaros, the former on-air personality who is suing the network and Mr. Ailes after turning down a settlement offer of nearly $1 million. Mr. O’Reilly is not a defendant, but in the suit Ms. Tantaros said that in early 2016 Mr. O’Reilly had asked “her to come to stay with him on Long Island where it would be ‘very private,’” and told her “on more than one occasion that he could ‘see [her] as a wild girl,’” according to court documents.

In an affidavit filed under oath, Ms. Tantaros’s psychologist, Michele Berdy, who treated her from 2013 to 2016, said she recalled “a number of occasions when Andrea complained to me about recurring unwanted advances from Bill O’Reilly.”

Fox News said it investigated Ms. Tantaros’s claims and found them baseless. The company explained her departure by saying she published a book that violated company policy. In court papers, the network said that she “is not a victim; she is an opportunist” and that her allegations bore “all the hallmarks of the wannabe.”

Ms. Walsh, the former guest on “The O’Reilly Factor,” told The Times she was propositioned by Mr. O’Reilly in 2013 but did not lodge a complaint because she did not want to harm her career prospects.

Ms. Walsh said that she met Mr. O’Reilly for a dinner, arranged by his secretary, at the restaurant in the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. During the dinner, she said, he told her he was friends with Mr. Ailes, and promised to make her a network contributor — a job that can pay several hundred thousand dollars a year.

Mr. O’Reilly at his desk at Fox News studios. He has contended that, like other prominent people, he has been the target of people seeking payouts to avoid negative publicity. CreditRichard Perry/The New York Times

After dinner, she said, Mr. O’Reilly invited her to his hotel suite. Ms. Walsh said she declined. Trying to remain cordial, she suggested that they go to the hotel bar instead. Once there, she said, he became hostile, telling her that she could forget any career advice he had given her and that she was on her own. He also told her that her black leather purse was ugly.

Ms. Walsh continued to appear on his show for about four months, but she said she sensed that he had become cold toward her on camera. Then, a producer for “The O’Reilly Factor” told Ms. Walsh that she would no longer appear on the show. She was never made a contributor.

“I knew my hopes of a career at Fox News were in jeopardy after that evening,” said Ms. Walsh, now an adjunct professor of psychology at California State University, Channel Islands, and a radio host at KFI AM 640 in Los Angeles.

A person briefed on the network’s decision said that Ms. Walsh was removed from the broadcast because the program’s ratings declined during her segments.

Shadowing Another’s Exile

Ms. Mackris, the producer who sued Mr. O’Reilly in 2004, never worked in television news again.

In the years after the dispute, she suffered from post-traumatic stress and spent years seeing a therapist, struggling to figure out how to create a new life, according to interviews with people close to her at the time.

Ms. Mackris’s settlement prevents her from talking about Fox News and her dispute with Mr. O’Reilly, according to people briefed on the deal. But she is allowed to talk about her life now.

Today, Ms. Mackris lives with her cats in an art-filled condo in her hometown, St. Louis, where she keeps bowls of colorful gumballs on tabletops. Her family is close by. She has traveled the world, volunteered, returned to school, discovered prayer and meditation, and started writing.

She is working on a book she researched and wrote over the past four years about a woman who fled Romania during World War II.

“A few years ago, I heard about a pair of natural pearl earrings forgotten in a drawer for 35 years that had just sold for millions at auction,” Ms. Mackris said. “They’d been given to a woman named Elena Lupescu by the king of Romania who ruled up until World War II, and I was immediately and completely taken by her story.”

“She lived in exile,” Ms. Mackris continued. “She lived in silence. And I got really curious about three things: How did she live with it all? Did she forgive them? And was she free?”

At Fox News, Mr. O’Reilly has continued his dominance. In the months since the presidential election, as the network has pulled in record ratings, his show has averaged 3.9 million viewers a night, according to Nielsen. Since September, he has released three books, including one for children, adding to his growing publishing empire. And in February, Mr. O’Reilly landed a coveted interview with President Trump before the Super Bowl.

Mr. O’Reilly was an early defender of Mr. Ailes and Fox News during that sexual harassment scandal last summer. His support remained resolute into the fall, after the company had reached agreements to settle the harassment claims from Ms. Huddy and Ms. Dhue. In November, he chided Megyn Kelly, his colleague at the time, after she described being sexually harassed by Mr. Ailes in her memoir.

“If somebody is paying you a wage, you owe that person or company allegiance,” he said on his nightly show, without mentioning Ms. Kelly by name. “You don’t like what’s happening in the workplace, go to human resources or leave.”

In second week of US-Israel talks, Trump ‘concerns’ on settlements remain

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 news 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.

Netanyahu chief of staff heads to US to sort out settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz left for Washington on Sunday to discuss settlement building with the Trump administration.

He will join Ron Dermer, Israel’s Washington ambassador, to continue discussions with US special envoy Jason Greenblatt in an attempt to reach an understanding between Israel and US President Donald Trump’s administration about building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu left Israel on Saturday night for a three day trip to China, and the fact that Horowitz did not accompany the prime minister but went instead to Washington highlights the importance of the negotiations with the US.

Greenblatt visited Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan last week to gain a deeper understanding of the situation. Despite two meetings with Netanyahu during the course of the visit, no agreement was reached on settlement construction.

Netanyahu and Greenblatt made “progress on the issue of Israeli settlement construction following up on President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement in Washington last month to work out an approach that reflects both leaders’ views,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office issued after the second three-hour meeting Thursday night.

“Those discussions are continuing between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office,” it said.

Netanyahu and the Trump White House have been trying to reach an understanding on Israeli settlement activity since last month’s meeting between the Israeli leader and the US president, who in a joint press conference told Netanyahu that he wanted him to “hold back” on the settlements.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Netanyahu has been trying to get the White House’s approval for the construction of a new settlement — the first in some 25 years — to replace the illegal outpost of Amona, which was evacuated and demolished last month.

Last month, he indicated to members of his security cabinet that the government may have to back off the pledge, drawing vociferous protests from the settlers and their allies in the coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's special representative for international negotiations, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

The Israeli prime minister has also been actively trying to avoid friction on other fronts related to settlements, pushing to postpone a Knesset committee vote next week on a bill that calls to annex the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

On Thursday, Greenblatt sat down for an unprecedented session with a delegation from the settler umbrella group the Yesha Council, led by Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi and Shomron Regional Council head Yossi Dagan — a meeting that according to Channel 2 was coordinated with Netanyahu.

Ahead of Greenblatt’s trip to Israel, Dagan told Likud ministers that a Netanyahu agreement to rein in settlement construction, or to a partial freeze of settlements, would lead to political crisis, Channel 2 reported, adding that the settler movement has argued that the freeze imposed by the administration of former president Barack Obama constituted “a breach of their human rights.”

A statement from the Yesha Council following the meeting with Greenblatt described it as “fruitful and positive,” and added that the council “looks forward to continuing this important dialogue.”

Channel 10 reported that officials who have met with Greenblatt over the past several days came away with a sense that the administration is determined to make progress on a regional peace accord, with talk of convening a possible regional conference in the coming months, and that White House efforts to get Israel to rein in settlements would come into play then.

Netanyahu said earlier Thursday that Israel was “in the middle of a process of dialogue with the White House and it is our intention to get to an agreed-upon policy on construction in the settlements.”

He noted that it was preferable to reach such understandings quickly rather than engaging in drawn-out negotiations.

Many on the Israeli right had anticipated that Trump would be more supportive of the settlement enterprise than his predecessor Barack Obama. However, last month, at a joint White House press conference with Netanyahu, Trump asked the prime minister to “hold back on settlements a little bit.” He also said in a newspaper interview that Israeli settlements “don’t help” in negotiating a peace agreement.

ESTONIAN FM: SETTLEMENT ISSUE DELAYS EU MEETING ON ISRAEL

 

http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Estonian-FM-Settlement-issue-delays-EU-meeting-on-Israel-483654

 

Israeli settlement activity is one of the reasons the European Union has not yet set a date with Israel to convene the EU-Israel Association Council, Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

Further discussions need to be held on the issue of settlement activity before a date can be set, Mikser said after arriving late Tuesday night.

 

He represents a country that is seen as a strong friend of Israel at the United Nations, but which stands with the European Union in its zero-tolerance policy for settlement activity.

Disagreements between Israel and the EU on settlements has prevented a long-anticipated upgrade to their already strong bilateral ties.

An important step to that upgrade is the convening of the EU-Israel Association Council, which has not meet since July 2012.

Sven Mikser. Credit: Marc Israel SellemSven Mikser. Credit: Marc Israel Sellem

It had been expected that a date for that meeting would be set on Monday when the EU council of foreign ministers met in Brussels, but nothing was finalized then. After the meeting, EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini said, “We are proceeding with the preparation for the Association Council with Israel, as decided in the previous Foreign Affairs Council in February.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said that Israel expects a date to be set soon.

Mikser, however, indicated that friction still exists on the issue of settlement activity.

“There were hopes that it would be possible to hold an Association Council [meeting with Israel]. It was in discussion earlier this year, but now in significant part, because of the ongoing settlement activity and the frustration [over this] in several European capitals, there was no decision taken in that regard,” Mikser said.

“We consider ourselves a friend of Israel and unconditionally recognize Israel’s right to exist, to defend itself and to take care of its security needs,” Mikser said regarding his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Estonia does not think the solution can be brought about by unilateral activity,” Mikser said, explaining that it is for this reason it has opposed both settlement activity and declarations of Palestinian statehood.

The two-day visit is Mikser’s first trip to Israel since becoming foreign minister last year, but he has traveled here, both as a parliamentarian and as a tourist. On Wednesday he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and on Thursday he will travel to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian officials, including Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

In 2012, Estonia abstained during the UN General Assembly vote that granted the Palestinians the status of non-member observer state. It was also one of six countries that voted against the resolution by UNESCO’s executive board that denied Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu and UK’s Boris Johnson spar over settlements

Visiting British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu butted heads publicly on Wednesday over whether Israeli settlements hinder the peace process.

Speaking before Government Press Office cameras ahead of their meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Netanyahu welcomed Johnson and said he looked forward to visiting London later this year to celebrate the centennial of the Balfour Declaration, which laid key diplomatic groundwork for Jewish statehood.

Johnson recalled the time in his youth when he worked in a kibbutz and joked about his “not-very-substantial contribution to the Israeli economy back then.” On a serious note, he went on to say that Prime Minister Theresa May and the rest of the UK government are “rock-like supporters of Israel.”

“What we want to see is an Israel that is at peace with its neighbors,” said Johnson, who had just come from meetings with Palestinian officials in Ramallah. “I should remind you that the policy of my government is for a two-state solution, which is what we want to achieve and help to bring about in a modest and humble way. And obviously we want to help remove the obstacles to that.”

He then briefly changed the topic, stating that Israel has “an absolute right to live in security, and the people of Israel deserve to be safe from terrorism. That’s our absolute priority.”

Jerusalem and London cooperate in various areas to “ensure the stability of the entire region,” Johnson said, only to return to the thorny issue of settlements. “And of course we must also try to remove obstacles to peace and progress, such as the settlements, which you and I have discussed before.”

The foreign secretary then addressed plans between Israel and the UK to negotiate a new free trade agreement, following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union last year. He hailed growing bilateral commercial ties: “We have the fastest growing Aston Martin dealership anywhere in the world here in Israel. We’ve done some fantastic export deals with you. But you’ve also greatly contributed to our economy.”

Netanyahu spoke up again, saying that he and Johnson evidently agree “on most things but not on all things.” The reason peace has been elusive for 100 years is not the settlements, he insisted. “It’s the persistent refusal to recognize a nation state for the Jewish people in any boundaries. If you want to solve a problem, go to the core of the problem.”

Posting a photo with Netanyahu from the encounter later on his Twitter account, Johnson called his conversation “friendly & frank.” He also related that the discussion focused on the two-state solution, trade and “concern over illegal settlements.”

Friendly & frank talks w/ PM @netanyahu in . Discussed Two States solution, trade & concern over illegal settlements

Earlier on Wednesday, Johnson had toured settlements with the leftist group Peace Now.

Here is UK Foreign Secretary @BorisJohnson checking out what he calls “illegal settlements” in the West Bank with leftist Peace Now group https://twitter.com/PeaceNowIL/status/839494791859666946 

He also traveled to Ramallah for meetings with the Palestinian leadership.

“The policy of our government in the UK is absolutely unchanged,” Johnson told reporters in Ramallah, standing next to Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki on a podium near a “State of Palestine” seal.

“We remain committed to a two-state solution, to that vision, for the resolution of this conflict. You know, I really think it is possible,” he said.

Johnson criticized Israeli settlement building in his comments in Ramallah, but also spoke out against Palestinian violence.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 8, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 8, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

“There is of course the need for the Israeli people to feel that they can live in security without the fear of terrorism and violence,” he said.

During an interview with Israel’s Channel 10, he indicated that the US administration was concerned by Israel’s recent expansions of West Bank settlements.

“So I think the very clear message that I got from the press conference between Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and President Trump [on February 15] is that I think there is anxiety in the White House, as there has been for a long time, about the pace of settlements and illegal settlements on the West Bank.”

The UK has “not deviated from our traditional view that a two-state solution is the way ahead,” he said. “We really want to encourage that. And we do think that settlements are illegal and get in the way of it.”

Netanyahu: Still no agreement on settlements with Trump

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told MKs from his ruling Likud party on Monday that he still has not reached an agreement with US President Donald Trump regarding the construction of new homes in West Bank settlements.

Netanyahu said that although he is working with the White House to establish a “mechanism” for coordinating settlement construction, “things are not as simple as you think they are,” unnamed participants in the Likud faction meeting told the Haaretz daily.

Trump’s presidency “is a historic opportunity, but [we] need to know the limits of this opportunity,” Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as saying.

Netanyahu’s comments were reportedly made during a heated argument between Likud lawmakers who support annexing large swaths of the West Bank and those in favor of separating from the Palestinians while still maintaining security control over the area.

Although Netanyahu has expressed support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, he has refrained from voicing support for a two-state solution of late, as MKs from both Likud and the right-wing Jewish Home party — upon whose support Netanyahu’s coalition depends — have called on him to renounce the two-state solution.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. AFP/ SAUL LOEB)

However, during his visit to Washington Netanyahu said “I don’t want to annex close to 2.5 millions Palestinians to Israel I do not want them to be our subjects,” while also telling Australian Foreign Minister last week while in Australia that Israel will never relinquish security control over the West Bank.

While many on the right celebrated Trump’s election as an opportunity to move ahead with large scale construction in West Bank settlements, the US president told Netanyahu during a joint press conference at the White House that “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

Just days before the prime minister’s visit, Trump also told the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily that “I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace,” as “every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left.”

Immediately following the prime minister’s visit to Washington, a senior Israeli official said that although the two sides have yet to reach an agreement on new settlement construction, they will work to establish a “mechanism” for discussing the issue upon Netanyahu’s arrival in Israel following his trip to Singapore and Australia, from which he returned on Sunday.

Liberman: Israel would be crazy to defy Trump on settlements

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned Monday that it would be a grave mistake for Israel to go up against the new Trump administration in Washington on settlements.

“For eight years, there was tension and friction with the Obama administration. If we now start to fight with the Trump administration… and the Republican-majority Congress, people will really start to think that the leadership in the State of Israel is a bunch of nutcases,” he told Israel Radio.

His comments came in reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly walking back his promise to build a new settlement for the former residents of the Amona outpost, which was evacuated last month.

Netanyahu told members of his security cabinet on Sunday that the state may have to renege on the pledge in light of US President Donald Trump’s request, during a joint press conference he held with the prime minister in Washington last week, that Israel “hold back” on settlement construction.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman shakes hands with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the Munich Security Conference on February 17, 2017. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

While the defense minister denied that Israel, as a sovereign country, requires a “green light” from the US government in order to move forward with settlement construction, he stressed the importance of avoiding a crisis with the Trump administration over the matter.

“Let’s try and talk and reach an agreement. Not every issue needs to be immediately turned into a crisis,” he said. “The most important thing is to reach understandings with the US on all issues.”

A “mechanism” for discussing settlements with the US “will be set up when the prime minister returns from the Far East,” an Israeli official said Sunday night.

Netanyahu is currently on a state visit to Singapore and Australia.

Liberman cited Trump’s new special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, as well as Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, as two allies of the settlement movement who have been working closely with the White House to help reach a consensus on the matter.

Netanyahu made similar comments regarding the importance of avoiding spats with the new US president in a closed-door cabinet meeting on February 12, where he warned his ministers that they “mustn’t get into confrontation with Trump.” He reportedly added that the president’s ego needs to be taken “into account.”

Earlier in the interview, Liberman rejected Trump’s implication during his press conference with Netanyahu that a single state would be a viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should the two sides agree to it.

“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said.

Liberman said that Israel cannot annex the Palestinians living in the West Bank if it wants to remain a Jewish state.

He went on to invoke his long-held two-state plan under which some Israeli Arab towns would become part of a future Palestinian state.

“We need to separate from the Palestinians in the West Bank, but also from the ones within the 1967 borders,” Liberman said. In a TV interview last week, Liberman said all the “Palestinians” in Israel should go live under the rule of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Netanyahu, Pence discuss mechanism for coordination on settlements

WASHINGTON — A day after US President Donald Trump told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit,” Netanyahu met with US Vice President Mike Pence to discuss the establishment of a mechanism on the issue.

Netanyahu and Pence also agreed to “work together in a systematic manner” to change the United Nations’ treatment of Israel, a member of Netanyahu’s delegation to Washington said after the meeting.

It was possible that Washington would demand drastic changes in the UN’s approach to the Jewish state, including the threat to withhold US funding, the official said.

Netanyahu also discussed with Pence his concerns over Jonathan Pollard, a former American spy who served nearly 20 years in prison on charges of spying in Israel before being released in 2015, but is prevented from moving to Israel. Pollard’s imprisonment had been a longtime point of tension in Israeli-US relations and Israeli leaders petitioned their US counterparts for years in order to secure’s Pollard’s release. Pence reportedly agreed to consider the issue, and it was agreed that the Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer would personally take on this portfolio.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat meets Jonathan Pollard in New York, September 26, 2016 (Jerusalem Municipality)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat meets Jonathan Pollard in New York, September 26, 2016 (Jerusalem Municipality)

The prime minister also reiterated his request that the US recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, something he put to Trump during their Oval Office meeting on Wednesday. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and extended sovereignty over the area in 1981. No other countries recognize Israel sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

“We [will] formulate as soon as possible the creation of a mechanism to discuss with the White House construction in the settlements, with the intention of reaching an understanding on this matter,” a member of Netanyahu’s delegation to Washington said after Thursday’s meeting.

Netanyahu had responded to Trump’s request to rein in settlement activity on Wednesday by promising that Israel and the US would try to coordinate their positions on settlement construction in the West Bank, “so that we don’t bump into each other on this every time.”

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017, where both leaders refused to commit to the two-state model as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017, where both leaders refused to commit to the two-state model as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

After Netanyahu and Trump met in the Oval Office following the press conference, the White House said the two “discussed the issue of Israeli settlement construction,” and “agreed to continue those discussions and to work out an approach that is consistent with the goal of advancing peace and security.”

In a briefing session with Israeli and international reporters after the meeting, Netanyahu confirmed the Trump administration and Israel “want to reach agreement [on settlements]. We discussed it and will continue to discuss it in order to get to an agreement.”

Netanyahu also said that recently announced plans for some 6,000 housing units in various settlements across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem would still go ahead. However, he was hesitant to talk about the establishment of a new settlement, which he promised the settler community as compensation for Amona, an illegal outpost that was evacuated last month due to a court order that determined it was built on private Palestinian land. And he indicated that he would at least consider Trump’s request that he rein in settlements.

Plans for a new settlement were “still being negotiated,” Netanyahu said, but “if there’s a request to examine this issue from so friendly a president, I think it’s appropriate to make the effort.” He added: “In Jerusalem, we’ll continue to build, and everything we’ve already announced will be built. But, on the rest, we need to discuss [it] and reach an agreement,” Netanyahu said, adding that while the US and Israel see “eye to eye on the rest of the issues, we must examine any request on this issue because it is in our interest.”

Later, however, his office issued a short statement asserting that “there are inaccurate headlines [appearing on this issue]. The prime minister did not say that he was prepared to discuss reining in construction.”

During Wednesday’s press conference, Trump rejected what he called the “very very unfair” treatment of Israel at the UN.

Trump has previously stated that he may seek to make significant changes at the UN in response to the world body’s tense relationship with Israel, writing on Twitter “as to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th” following a December UN Security Council Resolution that labelled Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as having “no legal validity.”

Netanyahu: Settlements ‘an issue, not the issue’ in conflict

Hailing a “very, very warm” meeting with US President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said the settlements were “an issue” but not “the issue” hindering peace with the Palestinians.

The remark came a day after Trump told Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” during a joint press conference in the White House. The prime minister on Thursday met with US Vice President Mike Pence to discuss the establishment of a mechanism to coordinate on the issue.

“I think it’s an issue, but I don’t think it’s the issue,” Netanyahu told MSNBC’s “For the Record” on Thursday, regarding the settlements. “Because the real core of this conflict between us and the Palestinians is not this or that settlement, or this or that community, it’s the persistent and enduring refusal to recognize a Jewish state in any boundary.”

The prime minister said the settlement issue has “been ingrained in the public mind” as the central obstacle to peace.

“Mind you this is an issue we agreed to discuss. We’ve set up a mechanism to discuss a way to reach an understanding,” he added, referring to the Israeli and US governments.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017, where both leaders refused to commit to the two-state model as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017, where both leaders refused to commit to the two-state model as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

In the interview, Netanyahu declined to compare Trump to former US president Barack Obama.

“I’m not going to start rating presidents. I will tell you though that I had a very, very warm meeting with President Trump. There was a great sense of kinship and friendship and I think that this is something the people of America feel toward the people of Israel. And, I assure you, the people of Israel feel deeply about the people of America,” he said.

The prime minister also did not explicitly endorse the two-state solution or a binational state. “I’ve always said that the labels are not important, the substance is important,” he remarked.

Netanyahu had responded to Trump’s request to rein in settlement activity on Wednesday by promising that Israel and the US would try to coordinate their positions on settlement construction in the West Bank, “so that we don’t bump into each other on this every time.”

After Netanyahu and Trump talked in the Oval Office following their press conference, the White House said the two “discussed the issue of Israeli settlement construction,” and “agreed to continue those discussions and to work out an approach that is consistent with the goal of advancing peace and security.”

In a briefing session with Israeli and international reporters after the meeting, Netanyahu confirmed the Trump administration and Israel “want to reach agreement [on settlements]. We discussed it and will continue to discuss it in order to get to an agreement.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets US Vice President Mike Pence in Washington DC, February 16, 2017, (Avi Ohayun/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets US Vice President Mike Pence in Washington DC, February 16, 2017, (Avi Ohayun/GPO)

Netanyahu also said that recently announced plans for some 6,000 housing units in various settlements across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem would still go ahead. However, he was hesitant to talk about the establishment of a new settlement, which he promised the settler community as compensation for Amona, an illegal outpost that was evacuated last month due to a court order that determined it was built on private Palestinian land. And he indicated that he would at least consider Trump’s request that he rein in settlements.

Plans for a new settlement were “still being negotiated,” Netanyahu said, but “if there’s a request to examine this issue from so friendly a president, I think it’s appropriate to make the effort.” He added: “In Jerusalem, we’ll continue to build, and everything we’ve already announced will be built. But, on the rest, we need to discuss [it] and reach an agreement,” Netanyahu said, adding that while the US and Israel see “eye to eye on the rest of the issues, we must examine any request on this issue because it is in our interest.”

Later, however, his office issued a short statement asserting that “there are inaccurate headlines [appearing on this issue]. The prime minister did not say that he was prepared to discuss reining in construction.”