White House Statement on Settlements Raises More Questions Than It Answers

February 3, 2017

The statement issued by the White House on Thursday night, which formally acknowledges that “the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful,” is an important step for a president who has publicly encouraged settlement growth in the past.

The statement sends mixed messages.  On the one hand, its failure to mention the two-state solution and its condoning of existing settlements is a gift to the settler movement and opponents of a two-state solution. On the other, the statement does call into question the assumption by the settlement movement and its friends and allies in the US that Israel has carte blanche from the new administration to expand and entrench the settlement enterprise, in contradiction to longstanding bipartisan US policy.

The statement therefore raises far more questions than it answers about what the Trump administration’s policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be. Journalists, political leaders and supporters of Israel in the US and around the world must follow up on this statement and press the White House to answer these questions:

  • Does it support and intend to pursue a two-state solution, as its Republican and Democratic predecessors have for the last quarter century? If so, what steps will it take to do so? In their confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Mattis both stated that they support a two-state solution. But this statement makes no mention of it.
  • Does the administration believe that existing settlements are illegitimate, as US administrations have for the last fifty years? In her confirmation hearing, UN Ambassador Haley acknowledged that settlements “can hinder peace.”  Does President Trump agree with Ambassador Haley? Thursday night’s statement claimed that existing settlements, seemingly including settlements deep in the West Bank, are not an impediment to peace.
  • If the White House supports a two-state solution and opposes settlement expansion, why did it nominate David Friedman, a long-time booster and financial supporter of the settlement movement, to serve as US ambassador to Israel? Does the Administration support Friedman’s attacks on supporters of the two-state solution, and his successful efforts to remove all mention of two states from the Republican Party’s platform?

Security experts and responsible leaders in the United States, Israel and around the world understand that a two-state solution is urgently needed to secure Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people, and that settlement expansion and entrenchment is severely undermining that future. The Trump administration must make clear whether or not it agrees and what policy it intends to follow.

Until it does, administration officials should be asked these questions at every opportunity.

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