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3 Feb, 2017 01:23

Israeli settlements not ‘impediment’ for peace, just ‘not helpful’ – White House

Israeli settlements not ‘impediment’ for peace, just ‘not helpful’ – White House

Donald Trump’s administration has warned that while further expansion of Israeli settlements on the occupied Palestinian territory is not an “impediment” for peace, it “may not be helpful” in resolving the decades-old conflict.

“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.

READ MORE: 2 in 3 Israelis believe no hope of peace with Palestinians – poll

Israel has been pursuing an aggressive illegal expansionist policy on Palestinian land it has seized following the Six Day War in 1967. Within less than two weeks after the inauguration of the new American president, Tel Aviv has announced the construction of over 5,500 new settlement housing units.

While Trump - in sharp contrast to his predecessor Barack Obama - hinted in the past that Israeli settlement activity is not something his administration would criticise, on Thursday the White House said that Trump is still undecided.

The new administration “has not taken an official position on settlement activity,” the White House said, hinting it will make up its mind following the discussions between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump when the two meet on February 15.

Before the White House clarified its position on the two-state peace solution, an official within the presidential administration told the Jerusalem Post that Tel Aviv failed to consult Washington when it made the announcements of new settlement construction.

“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,” the official said.

Right after Trump’s inauguration, Israel announced it would authorize 2,500 settlement housing units in the West Bank. Days later, it proceeded with an additional 3,000 units.

“With that in mind, we urge all parties to refrain 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.”

The Palestinian-Israeli peace talks have stalled since the efforts of the US failed in 2014.

READ MORE: Netanyahu invited to meet May at Downing St amid tensions over Israel’s illegal settlements

Israel was outraged when the US abstained from vetoing a UN Security Council resolution which called for a halt to the construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. The motion, which Tel Aviv called ‘anti-Israel,’ passed late December and sparked renewed tensions in the region.

Unlike the Obama administration, President Trump, prior to assuming office, has indicated that his administration will be more supportive of Israeli interests. He has hinted that the US might support Israel’s expansion and is contemplating moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem - a move which would amount to an effective declaration of the holy city as an exclusively Israeli capital.