Feb. 3, 2017
- White House: Israeli Settlements No Impediment to Peace, But Expansion Beyond Current Borders May Not Be Helpful
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday: “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.” (White House)
- See also Behind the White House Statement on Settlements – Abby Phillip and Karen DeYoung
The White House on Thursday gently warned Israel that new or expanded settlements in the West Bank “may not be helpful” in achieving Middle East peace. The apparent genesis of the statement was a story in Thursday’s Jerusalem Post, which quoted a senior administration official as urging Israel to cease settlement announcements.
The White House thought the rebuke, as reported, went too far and issued Spicer’s statement in an attempt to dial it back, while also giving itself breathing room as it develops a more comprehensive policy on the Middle East. At the very least, the White House wants to wait until Netanyahu’s scheduled visit to Washington on Feb. 15. (Washington Post)
- Trump Language on Settlements Returns U.S. Policy to Bush Era – John Podhoretz
On Thursday, the White House released a statement saying: “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.”
This position, in effect, returns the U.S. to the status quo ante before the Obama administration – specifically, to the policy outlined in a letter sent from George W. Bush to Ariel Sharon in 2004. In that letter, Bush said, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”
This language was an acceptance of the reality that the most populous Israeli settlements beyond the pre-1967 lines would certainly remain in Israeli hands at the end of any successful peace negotiation with the Palestinians.
If, like New York City, the West Bank city of Ariel gets more populous, its land mass does not increase in size, just the number of people living there. The Obama administration did not like these ideas, and reversed them. Add new apartments to Ariel and you were “expanding the settlements.” The Trump language returns U.S. policy to the notion that the physical acreage holding settlers should not increase but that the number of settlers is not at issue. (Commentary)