The White House on Thursday warned Israel to stop settlement announcements that could undermine peace with the Palestinians, according to The Jerusalem Post.
The surprising statement comes as President Trump signaled he would depart from former President Obama’s Israel policy and forge a close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a strong proponent of settlements.
But Trump was reportedly blindsided by Israel’s announcement of 5,500 new housing units to be built in the West Bank, which would have been the first new settlement there in around 20 years.
“As President Trump has made clear, he is very interested in reaching a deal that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is currently exploring the best means of making progress toward that goal,” an official told the paper.
“With that in mind, we urge all parties from taking unilateral actions that could undermine our ability to make progress, including settlement announcements,” the official added. “The administration needs to have the chance to fully consult with all parties on the way forward.”
In a separate statement Thursday, the White House made clear its opposition to the recent burst of settlement activity. But in a departure from the Obama administration, the statement does not call settlements an impediment to a two-state solution.
"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 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.”
Trump’s election is believed to have emboldened Netanyahu’s government, which has moved aggressively to expand its settlement activity.
Netanyahu is set to meet with Trump at the White House on Feb. 15.
Trump signaled during the transition he would make moves to align the U.S. closer with Israel’s government.
He announced his intent to nominate David Friedman, a strong settlement supporter, as ambassador to the Jewish state.
In December, Trump’s team reportedly pressured Obama to scuttle a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction. But the previous administration allowed the controversial measure to pass, abstaining from the vote.
But since entering the White House, Trump has backed off some of his more aggressive promises, including a plan to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Trump repeatedly said during the campaign he wants his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to help broker a Middle East peace deal.
Updated at 6:39 p.m.