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:
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.