President Trump called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday to temporarily freeze construction of settlements, which its government has been rapidly expanding in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
At a joint news conference between the two leaders from East Room of the White House, Mr. Trump said that he is asking Israel to “hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
Netanyahu responded, “we’ll try.” Mr. Trump then commented that his reaction didn’t sound too optimistic. The prime minister was later asked to respond to Mr. Trump’s request, and he said that the issue of settlements is “not the core of the conflict, nor does it drive the conflict.”
Israel recently announced plans to build more than 5,000 new settlement homes and to construct an entirely new settlement. After meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II earlier this month, the White House issued statement saying, “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.”
In a new interview with Israeli newspaper, Israel Hayom, owned by GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, Mr. Trump appeared to define his position even further on the issue.
“They [settlements] don’t help the process. I can say that. There is so much land left. And every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left,” he said. “But we are looking at that, and we are looking at some other options we’ll see. But no, I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”
The joint press conference Wednesday came ahead of a private meeting, bilateral meeting and working lunch between the two leaders. They discussed the prospects for a renewed peace process and Mr. Trump said that both sides will need to compromise. Netanyahu, however, said there are two conditions for a peace agreement -- that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that Israel is able to retain security control of the West Bank. He added that he’s interested in a “regional approach from involving our newfound Arab partners in pursuit of a broader peace and peace with the Palestinians.”
Mr. Trump said he’s open to a two-state or one-state solution as part of a peace deal.
“I like the one that both parties like,” he said. “I can live with either one.”