President Donald Trump on Friday fired a warning shot at Israel over a new West Bank settlement Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government approved on Thursday.
“While the existence of settlements is not in itself an impediment to peace, further unrestrained settlement activity does not help advance peace” The White House said in a statement.
The rebuke may indicate that Trump is changing his formerly conciliatory stance on Israel.
Netanyahu’s government was pressured to approve the new settlement – the first in almost two decades — by right-leaning government officials, after Israeli police evicted 40 families from Amona, a West Bank settlement. Israel’s Supreme Court deemed the settlement illegal, as it was built on privately owned Palestinian land.
The White House’s statement didn’t expressly criticize the Israeli government for approving settlements, though it did say the Israeli government told the White House it will adopt a policy on settlement building that “takes President Trump’s concerns into consideration.”
Trump told Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit,” during the Israeli prime minister’s White House visit in February.
Earlier in February, The White House issued a similar statement asking the Israeli government to not expand the construction of settlements, saying it doesn’t “help advance peace.” He also told an Israeli newspaper that settlements “may not be helpful” in February, notes CBS.
Trump then vs. Trump now
Trump’s recent statements on Israeli settlements are somewhat different than statements he released during the campaign and as president-elect — and he hasn’t exactly kept all of his promises.
On the campaign trail, Trump indicated he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, sending a strong message of support to right-leaning Israelis, while angering Palestinians, who claim Jerusalem as their capital. That move now appears to be on hold.
Trump’s Israeli ambassador, lawyer David Friedman, is a fervent supporter of settlement-building and has voiced skepticism of a two-state solution to the ongoing conflict in the region.
In December, the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding that Israel halt building settlements on Palestinian territory. Trump, then president-elect, urged President Obama to veto the resolution.
“As the United States has long maintained, peace between the Israelis and Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations,” Trump wrote on Facebook in December prior to the vote.
“This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis,” he added.
The Obama Administration’s line on the issue was to deem West Bank settlements “illegitimate,” and outright reject all new settlements. While Trump has stopped short of that policy, his administration’s position on the issue isn’t really a major shift from Obama’s.
“Already, there seems to be some shell shock on the Israeli right, who were expecting President Trump to be the greatest thing to ever happen to them,” Michael Koplow, the policy director at the Israel Policy Forum, told Vox’s Zack Beauchamp earlier this week. “That turns out to be a bad misjudgment.”