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March 31, 2017 5:06 pm

Middle East Expert Predicts New ‘Restrained’ Israeli Settlement Policy Will Prevent Friction With Trump Administration

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An Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The US and Israeli governments are “working hard to prevent clashes” over the issue of settlements and “they will succeed,” a prominent American foreign policy expert predicted to The Algemeiner on Friday.

Elliott Abrams — a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush — spoke with The Algemeiner a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet approved some limits on West Bank settlement construction — i.e. largely keeping new construction within already developed areas — in deference to the wishes the Trump administration, which is exploring potential ways to restart the long-stalled Middle East peace process.

“The Netanyahu approach harks back to what Bush and [late Israeli PM Ariel] Sharon agreed to and I think it will work,” Abrams said, referring to a 2004 exchange of letters in which Bush acknowledged that major settlement blocs would remain part of Israel within the framework of any future peace agreement.

Ex-State Department Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller — now a vice president at the Wilson Center and a CNN global affairs analyst — also spoke with The Algemeiner on Friday about the new Israeli settlement policy. “The question is what is this designed to do?” he asked. “Is it designed, A, to stabilize Netanyahu’s domestic situation? Or B, is it designed to relieve pressure between the Israelis and the Americans? Or C, it is designed truly to be functional to create a new basis on which the Trump administration can argue to the Arab states that the Israelis have done something significant and then induce them to do something in return?”

“So the real question,” Miller continued, “is what is the motivation here? And I would argue that to be truly functional or useful, whatever the Israeli security cabinet did would have to jump through all those three hoops. The first hoop, I think, it has managed. But I don’t know whether or not it has managed to placate the Americans. And clearly, I don’t think the Israelis have done enough — not that I’m arguing that they should — to induce the Arabs to respond and to set the stage for what appears to be a desire on the part of the administration to have some sort of event with the Arab states and the Israelis sometime later this year.”

At a joint White House press conference last month, President Donald Trump asked Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” — a request that surprised Israel. Since then, the matter has been the subject of ongoing talks between the two governments. The point man for the Trump administration in this effort to reach understandings on the matter has been Jason Greenblatt — the president’s special representative for international negotiations.

On Thursday, an unnamed White House official stated, “As the administration has made clear: While the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace. The Israeli government has made clear that going forward, its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the president’s concerns into consideration. The United States welcomes this.”

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