The issue of Israeli settlements has been over the media. Even with a meeting between President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on the subject scheduled for February 15, The New York Times and some other media outlets seized on a February 2 White House press release and got ahead of themselves, misleadingly reporting that Mr. Trump had done an about face on his strong support during the campaign for the legitimacy of the settlements.

Adding to the tumult was Israel’s contentious Supreme Court-ordered eviction of the Jewish residents of the Amona settlement, built with government encouragement on apparently abandoned land, but which individual Palestinians now claim to privately own, citing disputed ownership documents.


Significantly, despite the media reports suggesting a Trump turnaround, the State Department refused to criticize the enactment of the law at this time, saying it would wait and see how the Israeli courts rule in the course of expected legal challenges. The State Department did, however, go on to call on the Palestinians and their supporters not to challenge the law in international forums or courts as such action could be “counterproductive to the cause of peace.”

In any event, none of this indicates a shift by the Trump administration from candidate Trump’s statements during the presidential campaign. Indeed, White House statements in recent days strongly suggest the opposite.

The controversy began with the media’s parsing this White House statement that came in reaction to an announcement from Israel that it would be building new settlements in the West Bank:


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.


Some focused on the “may not be helpful” phrase as defining a position in line with that of the Obama administration. Yet here we had the White House saying unequivocally, even before a policy formulation has been developed, that all existing settlements were OK despite the Obama “1967 lines” benchmark.

And, significantly, there was no reprise of the Obama administration’s routine incantation of “a two-state solution” but rather a reference to President Trump’s hope to “achieve peace throughout the Middle East region.” It would seem he is thinking along the lines of a region-wide accommodation to Palestinian aspirations in a manner broader than “a two-state solution.”

This conclusion was given more support in a statement by White House press secretary Sean Spicer a day later as part of a colloquy with a reporter. It went this way:


Q: Sean, your statement last night on settlements in Israel – has there been a shift in U.S. policy? While you said you didn’t think that they were helpful to achieving peace, you also didn’t think they were an impediment to peace, which would represent a departure from both Obama and Bush. And there was no reaffirmation of a two-state solution in that statement. So where are you on that?SPICER: The president is committed to peace. That’s his goal. And I think when the president and Prime Minister Netanyahu meet here on the 15th, that will obviously be the topic on that. At the end of the day, the goal is peace. And I think that’s what you have to keep in mind…

Q: Sean, back to the settlement thing. What is your position on settlements in terms of whether or not they – I mean, you said that they were not an impediment to peace, but you also don’t want them building new ones.

SPICER: Right.

Q: So where are you –

SPICER: I mean I think the statement is very clear about that. We don’t believe that the existence of current settlements is an impediment to peace, but I think the construction or expansion of existing settlements beyond the current borders is not going to be helpful moving forward.


If the administration is indeed thinking along the lines of region-wide approach as opposed to a two state solution, it will be a breath of fresh air, effectively acknowledging the uncertainties created by the disruptions of the Arab Spring and the toxic presence of a terror group like Hamas that the Palestinian Authority cannot neutralize.

Perhaps it would also allow for Israel’s security needs to drive peace negotiations rather than the meaningless 1967 lines contemplated by Mr. Obama. Of course, Israel’s retaining its current settlements would go beyond even what George W. Bush pledged to Ariel Sharon respecting the then-settlement blocs.

And if the current roster of settlements are not an impediment to peace, then who is to blame for the absence of negotiations over the past several years? Surely the Palestinians, who insisted that suspension of settlement building was a precondition for their participation.

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