Trump to Israel: New settlements may not help efforts for peace

The Trump administration on Thursday issued a statement that continued Israeli expansion of settlements in the West Bank, such as Kiryat Arba, pictured, or construction of new ones may not be helpful to efforts for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the statement was not meant as policy on the settlements, though it appeared to be a shift from U.S. President Donald Trump's views of settlements expressed during the 2016 presidential campaign. Photo by Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA

Feb. 3 (UPI) — President Donald Trump promised unwavering support for Israel during his campaign for president while bitterly criticizing former President Barack Obama‘s treatment of the country but appears to have embraced, carefully, at least one of his predecessor’s positions.

The White House on Thursday evening issued a warning to Israel about building new settlements in the West Bank, or expanding existing ones, suggesting it could make future negotiations for peace in the Middle East more difficult.

Israeli construction of settlements in disputed areas of the West Bank — land that Palestinians claim should be part of Palestine should the two sides reach an agreement on the two-state solution sought by most of the world to bring peace there — has long been a sticking point in getting Palestinians to the negotiating table.

Where Obama directly said Israel should not be building settlements, the Trump administration embraced a softer version of the message, which has been echoed by several presidents before Obama.

“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement Thursday.

Israel has made several moves to expand settlements in the West Bank since Trump’s inauguration two weeks ago, approving the construction of nearly 6,000 new homes in that time.

In a call on Jan. 29, Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the threats posed by Iran, as well as working on a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, though it is unknown if they specifically discussed construction of settlements.

Thursday’s statement from the White House appears to be a shift in policy from Trump’s criticism of Obama’s strong stance against the settlements and of his perceived allowance of a United Nations resolution calling them illegal in December.

Spicer insisted, however, that the statement on new settlements was not a shift or declaration on the issue.

“The Trump administration has not taken an official position on settlement activity and looks forward to continuing discussions, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he visits with President Trump later this month,” Spicer.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Trump in Washington on Feb. 15 at the White House.


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