President Donald Trump on Friday appeared to adopt a harsher stance on Israel’s illegal settlements, ahead of an upcoming meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“They [settlements] don’t help the process,” Trump said in an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper. “I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”
Trump nevertheless said he would not go as far as some of his predecessors in his criticism of settlement activity.
“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.”
Trump added that he was revisiting his pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, hypothetically an effective recognition of Israeli claims on a city considered sacred in all Abrahamic religions and a major sticking point in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“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 interview marks the clearest break from his earlier rhetoric wholly supportive of the Israeli government.
He appeared to rally behind the Netanyahu administration to an extent that despite almost unanimous international condemnation, the Jewish state has announced three separate settlement plans to add thousands of illegal housing units in occupied West Bank since Trump was sworn in.
Approximately 500,000 Israelis now live in more than 100 Jewish-only settlements built since Israel occupied the Palestinian West Bank and east Jerusalem in 1967.
The Palestinians want these areas — along with the Gaza Strip — for the establishment of a future Palestinian state.