WASHINGTON — President Trump, who has made support for Israel a cornerstone of his foreign policy, shifted gears on Thursday and for the first time warned the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hold off new settlement construction.
“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,” the White House said in a statement.
The White House noted that the president “has not taken an official position on settlement activity,” but said Mr. Trump would discuss the issue with Mr. Netanyahu when they meet Feb. 15, in effect telling him to wait until then. Emboldened by Mr. Trump’s support, Israel had announced more than 5,000 new homes in the West Bank since his Jan. 20 inauguration.
The statement resembled those issued routinely by previous administrations of both parties for decades, but Mr. Trump has positioned himself as an unabashed ally of Israel and until now had never questioned Mr. Netanyahu’s approach. Mr. Trump picked as his ambassador to Israel a financial supporter of West Bank settlement, and he harshly criticized former President Barack Obama in December for not blocking a United Nations resolution condemning settlements.
But Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition government seemed to take Mr. Trump’s inauguration as a starting gun in a race to ramp up its construction in the occupied territory. Since the president was sworn in, the government announced that it would authorize another 2,500 homes in areas already settled in the West Bank, and then followed that this week with an announcement of 3,000 more. On Wednesday, Mr. Netanyahu took it a step further, vowing to build the first new settlement in the West Bank in many years.Read More...
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