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Did White House Really Deliver Huge Slapdown To Israel Over Settlement Building?

You’d think so from the way the mainstream media has been reporting.

But let’s look at the exact wording of the White House statement and break it down.

Statement by the Press Secretary

“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.”

“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace”

This a huge break from previous administrations who DID believe this. Almost every administration since the Six Day War has stated the settlements were an obstacle to peace, with two exceptions:

  • Although critical of them and seeing them as a provocation, Ronald Reagan stated “they’re not illegal”
  • The George W. Bush administration formulated a set of understandings with Prime Ministers Sharon and Olmert over them, giving limited, de facto recognition of the settlement enterprise

It is also a huge departure from the recent UNSC resolution 2334 that the Obama administration helped push, which proclaims that all “settlements in Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem” have no legal validity, constitute a flagrant violation under international law and are a major obstacle 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 language here is rather muted. “Not helpful” towards the goal of peace does not mean impediment to it.

But also pay attention to what the Trump administration is saying is “not helpful”: NEW settlements or EXPANSION of existing settlements BEYOND THEIR CURRENT BORDERS. This excludes construction WITHIN existing settlements – which means the Trump administration does not seem to have any issue with the building of more houses, or an expansion to existing houses, in existing settlements within their current borders.

“The Trump administration has not taken an official position on settlement activity and looks forward to continuing discussions, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu”

While this could mean the Trump administration could take a harder line down the track, the tone is very different from what we have seen from previous administrations. Mentioning he looks forward to continuing discussions “including with Prime Minister Netanyahu” seems to suggest that Netanyahu has at least a chance to influence the results of these discussions. Note how he also did not mention Mahmoud Abbas, or “both parties.”

Either way, the statement does not seem to be the huge slap on the wrist or harbinger of a crisis in relations like the mainstream media would have us believe. It is actually consistent with what we have heard so far from Trump’s team.

I’d go as far as to say that this is the least anti-settlement statement we have ever seen from a US administration.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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