In a surprise move Donald Trump warns Israe
that new settlements ‘may not help’
achieve Middle East peace

Donald Trump warns Israel

President Donald Trump had previously offered his firm support to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister and signalled he could be more accommodating towards settlement projects than his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

“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 White House said in a statement, adding that Mr Trump would discuss the issue during a meeting with Mr Netanyahu on February 15.

The statement could disappoint Israel’s far-right which had hoped Mr Trump would give an unqualified green light on rapid settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem – areas Israel captured in the 1967 war.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Netanyahu had vowed to establish the first new West Bank settlement in more than two decades “as soon as possible”.

Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State, spoke by phone with Mr Netanyahu on Thursday, the State Department said. It did not say whether they discussed the White House statement.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations said on Friday it was too early to tell how the White House’s latest statement would affect future building.

“It’s still too early to tell … I would not categorise this as a U-turn by the US administration but the issue is clearly on their agenda … the issue will be discussed when the prime minister (Benjamin Netanyahu) meets the president in Washington,” Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, told Israel Radio.

“We will not always agree on everything.”

On Wednesday, Israel announced plans for 3,000 more settlement homes in the West Bank – the third such declaration in less than two weeks since Mr Trump took office.

Mr Trump has already appeared to slow his promises to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a promise often made by presidential candidates, but never carried out in office because of fears the move would inflame tensions in the region.

The prime minister’s vow to establish new West Bank settlements came as Israeli security forces were completing the evacuation of Amona, where they broke into a synagogue to remove dozens of Israeli protesters who had barricaded themselves inside. Netanyahu’s pro-settler government had unsuccessfully tried to block the evacuation of Amona, but Israel’s Supreme Court rejected all appeals after determining the outpost was built illegally two decades ago on private Palestinian land.

Speaking at a ceremony in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, Netanyahu expressed “great pain” over the removal of Amona.