U.S. Says Opposes Unrestrained Settlement Construction After Israel Advances Plans in Jerusalem

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Construction cranes at a building site in Neve Yaakov in the northern area of east Jerusalem in 2016.
Construction cranes at a building site in Neve Yaakov in the northern area of east Jerusalem in 2016.Credit: AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration on Thursday reiterated its opposition to "unrestrained" settlement construction, and its commitment to reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

A White House official said in reply to a construction announcement by the Jerusalem municipal authorities of hundreds of units in East Jerusalem, that "President Trump has publicly and privately expressed his concerns regarding settlements and the Administration has made clear that unrestrained settlement activity does not advance the prospect for peace."

The administration, however, did not directly condemn the Israeli construction announcement, and the White House official said that the administration also recognizes "that past demands for a settlement freeze have not helped advance peace talks."

The official added that "the Trump administration is committed to and focused on doing everything possible to advance the prospects of a historic, conflict-ending agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. We are moving toward that goal and productive conversations are ongoing."

The Jerusalem municipality announced on Thursday that it is advancing two construction plans in neighborhoods located beyond the Green Line. The move comes a day after a rare announcement by city hall that it expects similar plans which were previously submitted to receive approval.

Also on Thursday, U.S. State Department chief spokeswoman Heather Nauert was asked whether the Trump administration makes any distinction between building in the West Bank settlements and building in East Jerusalem across the Green Line. Nauert said she will look into the subject, and repeated the White House's position regarding settlement construction in general.

The administration has a number of times expressed its concern over settlement construction, while emphasizing that existing settlements are not necessarily an impediment to peace. Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority last month, together with Trump's special envoy to the peace process, Jason Greenblatt. The two met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Ahead of their arrival, the Israeli government announced new settlement construction, upon which the State Department made a statement very similar to the one released by the White House official on Thursday. 

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