White House: Construction of “New Settlements” May Not Be Helpful

NEW YORK -
Construction in the Beitar Illit neigborhood of “Giva C” in the foreground, and the Israeli town of Tzur Hadassah in the background. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

After a flurry of announcements by the Israeli government regarding construction of new home in Yehudah and Shomron, and a media report indicating that the White House had issued a “warning” to Israel on this issue, the White House released a statement early Thursday evening that seemed to take a middle of the road approach.

“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,” said the statement, which was careful to note that the 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.”

The statement also said that the “American desire for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians has remained unchanged for 50 years,” and that Mr. Trump “hopes to achieve peace throughout the Middle East region.”

Thursday’s statement was in marked contrast with the Obama administration, which argued that the Jewish communities in Yehudah and Shomron were an obstacle to the peace process, but also indicated that the Trump administration may not be agreeable to the notion of expanding existing Jewish communities in these areas.

The statement was released following a report in The Jerusalem Post that cited a senior administration official as saying that the administration warned Israel Thursday to stop making settlement-construction announcements that are “unilateral” and are “undermining” of President Trump’s goal of bringing peace to the Middle East .

In the days after President Trump’s inauguration, the Israeli government reacted as if what had been perceived as Obama-era shackles had been removed, quickly announcing construction of thousands of new homes in Yehudah and Shomron and in eastern Yerushalayim.