President Trump, who voiced staunch support for Israel during the 2016 campaign, says Israeli settlement expansion could hurt the chances of brokering a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
“They [settlements] don't help the process,” Trump said in an interview published Friday by the Israel Hayom newspaper, an outlet owned by major GOP donor Sheldon Adelson that backs the country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Trump said building more settlements on land claimed by Palestinians could inflame tensions between the two sides.
“I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace,” he said.
Trump also said he would not go as far as his predecessor, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTo Build Back Better, improving Black women's health is a must Rahm Emanuel has earned M since leaving Chicago's city hall: report 60 years after the Peace Corps, service still brings Americans together MORE, and other U.S. presidents and condemn Israel for settlement construction.
“No, I don't want to condemn Israel,” he said. “Israel has had a long history of condemnation and difficulty. And I don't want to be condemning Israel. I understand Israel very well, and I respect Israel a lot, and they have been through a lot.”
Separately, Trump confirmed he was rethinking his plan to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“I am studying the embassy [issue], and we will see what happens,” he said. “The embassy is not an easy decision. It has obviously been out there for many, many years, and nobody has wanted to make that decision.”
The comments are among Trump’s first public remarks on the Israel-Palestinian conflict since he was inaugurated as president.
They come just days before Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Trump at the White House on Feb. 15.
Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition has appeared emboldened by Trump’s win after a campaign in which he pledged to forge closer ties with the Israeli government, including a more welcoming approach to settlements that were vocally opposed by Obama.
Trump intends to nominate attorney David Friedman as his ambassador to Israel. Friedman is a major proponent of settlements.
The Israeli government earlier this month announced ambitious new plans to build 3,000 new housing units in the West Bank.
Afterward, the White House released a statement that broke with past administrations by saying that the president did not view settlements as an obstacle to peace.
But it also said “the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.”
The Palestinians claim the West Bank as part of its future state with east Jerusalem at its capital. Many foreign countries say the settlements are illegal and have called for them to be ceased or dismantled.
Trump’s interview was published after he met with Adelson for dinner at the White House Thursday night.