The administration of new US President Donald Trump has declined to take a position on Israel’s plan to build 2,500 illegal settlement units in occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank, a departure from past White House criticism of such construction.
The latest expansion plan was announced Tuesday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, the regime’s minister of military affairs.
On Tuesday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer dodged a reporter’s question on whether the Trump administration supports Israeli settlement expansion.
Spicer said Trump was still forming his foreign policy team, noting the president would discuss settlements and other matters when Netanyahu visits Washington next month.
“We’re going to have a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and we’ll continue to discuss that,” he said. Trump “has asked his team to get together.”
Spicer said Trump remains committed to his campaign pledge to improve US-Israel ties that were often strained over settlement activities during the Obama administration.
“Israel continues to be a huge ally of the United States, he wants to grow closer with Israel, to make sure that it gets the full respect that it deserves in the Middle East,” he added.
The lack of criticism of a large Israeli settlement announcement is a departure from past US administrations in both parties. Every US president since Jimmy Carter has taken the position that Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories are “illegitimate” under international law.
Last month, the administration of former President Barack Obama allowed the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution which demanded an immediate end to Israel’s settlement activities.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, decried Israel’s approval of the new plan, stressing that such “unilateral actions” were hindering peace.
The Palestine Liberation Organization also reacted to the move with Secretary General Saeb Erekat saying that “the international community must hold Israel accountable immediately.”
The presence and continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine have created a major obstacle for the efforts to establish peace in the Middle East. Palestinians want the West Bank as part of their future independent state, with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital.