The White House suggested on Thursday night that Israeli construction plans in Judea and Samaria “may not be helpful” to promote a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
At the same time, the White House clarified that President Donald Trump’s administration has not yet taken an official position on Israeli “settlement activity”.
“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,” said White House press secretary Sean Spicer in a statement.
“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,” added Spicer.
The statement from the White House followed a report in the Jerusalem Post, which quoted an unnamed American official who said that Trump has warned Israel to stop its unilateral announcements of new construction in Judea and Samaria as they “undermine” his efforts to reach a peace agreement.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced earlier this week the construction of 3,000 new homes in Judea and Samaria.
That announcement came after the approval of 2,500 units last week.
While the construction has been criticized by the UN, the EU and France, the Trump administration has thus far been silent on the issue, angering senior PA officials.
Just a week ago, Spicer declined to express a position on Israeli construction when asked about it in his daily press briefing.
"Israel continues to be a huge ally of the United States," Spicer said at the time, adding, "He wants to grow closer to Israel to make sure it gets the full respect in the Middle East. We'll have a conversation with the prime minister."
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat later said he was "shocked" by the White House's silence on Israel’s construction announcement, and called on Trump's administration to clarify its policy.