Having expressed strong support for Israel during his campaign and Obama's lame-duck session, it appears President Trump is shifting gears rather markedly. In a statement issued tonight, The White House commented that "the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal."
Statement by the Press Secretary
"The American desire for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians has remained unchanged for 50 years.
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.
As the President has expressed many times, he hopes to achieve peace throughout the Middle East region.
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."
The New York Times reports: 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.
Mr. Netanyahu vowed earlier on Thursday to continue settlement construction in the West Bank while attending a memorial service marking fourth anniversary of the death of Ron Nachman, a founder and longtime mayor of the settlement of Ariel.
“There are perhaps 20,000 residents here today and I promise you: there will be many more,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “Just recently the government I head approved another 1,000 units, which means 5,000 people, and means significant growth. There is no way that Ariel will not be part of the state of Israel – it will always be part of the state of Israel.”
With the Trump administration putting the brakes on the embassy move also, all eyes and ears will now be on that mid-feb meeting between the two leaders.