WASHINGTON (CN) – Adding confusion to its stance on Israeli settlements, the White House said Thursday that new settlement construction "may not be helpful" to peace efforts.
Jolting analysts and pundits, the announcement from White House press secretary Sean Spicer came the same day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to establish the first new settlement in the West Bank in more than two decades.
The settlements, which the United Nations among other members of the international community deem unlawful under international law, impede on land that Palestinians want for the creation of a future state.
Netanyahu had been receptive of President Donald Trump, who came to office mere weeks after the Obama administration took the toughest stance of its history against Israeli settlements. Days after Washington abstained from a United Nations Security Council measure against Israeli settlements, allowing the resolution to pass, Secretary of State John Kerry gave an impassioned speech that condemned Israel’s encroachment on Palestine as a slap against democracy.
Since Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration, meanwhile, Netanyahu announced plans to build 6,000 new homes in already existing settlements.
Though the White House voiced criticism of the settlements Thursday, Spicer distinctly noted in his statement that the new administration "has not taken an official position on settlement activity."
That presumably means the Trump administration could decide at some point that it will officially tolerate settlement expansion.
While the statement reiterated 50 years of U.S. commitment to reaching a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, the statement also marked a stark contrast from the Obama administration's position.
The Trump administration does not "believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace," the statement says.
Spicer’s announcement came one day after a federal civil complaint in Washington accused Netanyahu and two high-level Israeli defense officials of committing war crimes in the Palestinian territories, enabling settlement expansion.
The lawsuit also takes aim at tax-exempt American charities that funnel $2 billion a year in U.S. donations into the settlements, killing any realistic prospect for a two-state solution.
Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with President Trump later this month in Washington.
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