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Assessing Israel's Pledge To Scale Back Settlements


President Trump says he wants to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and make what he calls the deal of the century. And when he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month, the president told him to, quote, "hold back on settlements for a little bit." Now Israel says it's taking steps to limit the expansion of West Bank Jewish settlements out of consideration for President Trump. So are those steps meaningful? Here's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: According to widespread reports in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has laid down a new policy on settlements. In consideration of President Trump's desire to limit Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank and advance the peace process, Israel will significantly scale back settlement expansion. But Hagit Ofran of the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now doesn't buy it.

HAGIT OFRAN: The government is trying to say that we are taking some restraint. But at the same time, what they're doing is actually allowing the settlements to flourish.

ESTRIN: According to its new policy, Israel will, as much as possible, only build inside built-up areas within a settlement's existing footprint. But what are built-up areas? And what is a settlement's footprint? Ofran says it's never been defined. Many settlement neighborhoods are spread across hilltops, connected by roads.

OFRAN: If you take your hand, for instance, and you look at the fingers, Maybe between your fingers, it's not built. But you would say, well, it's roads, it's parks. So is it the built-up area or not?

ESTRIN: Plus, Israel's new policy allows exceptions when it's deemed not possible to build inside built-up areas. Ofran says that gives Israel a lot of wiggle room and could kill a potential two-state solution that would see Israel give up the West Bank and Palestinians build a country of their own.

President Trump told an Israeli newspaper in February that settlements are not a good thing for peace because, quote, "every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left." Israel says it's taking Trump's concerns seriously and is talking to the administration about real limits. Palestinian Authority parliamentarian Abdullah Abdullah objects to those U.S.-Israel talks.

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: They're agreeing on what, on how to steal the Palestinian land, partly or totally? That - it doesn't work that way.

ESTRIN: He says there should be a total freeze on settlement building before Palestinians talk peace again with Israel. For its part, Israel says it's ready to talk and that settlements aren't the core of the dispute. Israel wants to guarantee its security and wants Palestinians to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.

At the same time Israel's settlement policy emerged last week, Israel made another settlement decision. And that was to build Israel's first new official settlement in more than two decades. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem.


Daniel Estrin
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.