(JNS.org) In a major shift in tone, the Trump administration warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the possible drawbacks of 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,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday.
While the White House noted that President Donald Trump “has not taken an official position on settlement activity,” it said the president plans to discuss the topic with Netanyahu at their official meeting Feb. 15 in Washington, D.C.
The White House statement comes amid a flurry of construction announcements by the Jewish state. After years of facing severe criticism over settlements from President Barack Obama, who labeled them as “impediments to peace,” Israel has announced more than 5,000 new homes in Judea and Samaria since Trump took office Jan. 20. Netanyahu went even further Wednesday when he vowed to build the first new settlement in Judea and Samaria in nearly 25 years.
Despite the White House’s warning Thursday, which marked a sharp break from previous Trump administration statements on the issue that did not criticize settlements, many in Israel still expect the president to take a softer stance on settlements than Obama. U.S. Ambassador to Israel-designate David Friedman has close ties with Israel’s settlement community.