The Trump administration said on Thursday that Israel’s building of new settlements and expansion of existing ones in the occupied territories may not help to achieve peace with Palestinians, adopting a more measured tone than previous pro-Israel announcements.
In a statement issued two weeks before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to visit US President Donald Trump, the White House said the administration “has not taken an official position on settlement activity”.
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“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 statement said.
Trump has signalled he could be more accommodating toward settlement projects than his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from West Jerusalem, said there was “certainly a change of tone” in the White House statement.
“In the last two weeks they have not reacted at all to the 6,000 new settlements announced by the Israelis. And a lot of people, particularly right-wing politicians, took that as a green light,” he said.
“This is nowhere near as strong a statement as compared to the previous administration under former President Barack Obama.”
Obama routinely criticised settlement construction plans and his administration often described settlement activity as lacking legitimacy and impeding peace.
The White House statement came as Israel ratcheted up settlement activity. On Wednesday, it said it would establish a new settlement in the occupied West Bank, the first since the late 1990s.
It also announced plans for 3,000 more settlement homes in the West Bank, the third such declaration in less than two weeks since Trump took office.
An announcement a week ago by Israel that it would build some 2,500 more dwellings in the West Bank, where Palestinians now seek statehood, drew rebukes from the Palestinians and the European Union.
Al Jazeera’s Khan said that the Palestinians were very angry. “They said the settlement activity might be the ‘death of the two-state solution’ and ‘frenzied escalation’.”
“Analysts have told me that the international condemnation and shock may have forced the White House to issue some sort of a statement,” Khan said.
Israel’s top court ruled in 2014 that the hilltop outpost of Amona, with 280 residents and located some 20 kilometres north of Jerusalem, was built on land belonging to Palestinians and had to be vacated by February 8.