White House official tells ‘Post’ all parties should cease ‘unilateral actions,’ affirms two-state solution.
Donald Trump. (photo credit:REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – The White House warned Israel on Thursday to cease
settlement announcements that are “unilateral” and “undermining” of
President Donald Trump’s effort to forge Middle East peace, a senior
administration official told The Jerusalem Post.
For the first time, the administration confirmed that Trump is committed
to a comprehensive two-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict
negotiated between the parties.
The official told the Post that the White House was not consulted on Israel’s
unprecedented announcement of 5,500 new settlement housing units over
the course of his first two weeks in office.
“As President Trump has made clear, he is very interested in reaching a deal
that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is currently exploring the
best means of making progress toward that goal,” the official said.
"With that in mind, we urge all parties to refrain from taking unilateral actions
that could undermine our ability to make progress, including settlement
announcements,” the official added. “The administration needs to have the
chance to fully consult with all parties on the way forward.”
Trump plans to bring up the peace process in his meeting with Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House scheduled for February 15.
Trump looks forward to those discussions, White House Press Secretary Sean
Spicer said in response to this report.
"The American desire for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians has
remained unchanged for 50 years," Spicer said. "While we don’t believe the
existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new
settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current
borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal."
On Thursday, Netanyahu reiterated his support for the settlement enterprise
and said, during a visit to Ariel, that in the last week alone he had announced
the advancement and authorization of 900 homes in that city.
Until now, Israeli officials have not known what to make of Trump
administration policy on the issue of settlements specifically and, more
generally, on the challenge of Middle East peace: Under Trump’s leadership,
reference to a two-state solution was removed from the Republican Party
platform over the summer, and the president’s envoy to Israel has publicly
supported the settlement enterprise.
Trump has, however, repeatedly called peace between Israel and the
Palestinians the “ultimate deal” – one that he has tasked Jared Kushner,
a top adviser and his son-in-law, with moderating.
“I think it’s designed to chill some of the exuberance of those on the Israeli
Right who think they have a blank check,” Dennis Ross, a senior Middle East
diplomat and veteran of the George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama
administrations, told the Post. “I think that exuberance got their attention.
I just don’t think they want any announcements that will surprise them,
and they’re still in the process of formulating what their policy is going to be.
“It sounds like they want to convey a pretty blunt message,” Ross added.
The Trump administration official did not go as far as to explicitly
condemn Israel’s settlement activity as “contrary to the pursuit of peace,” as
the Obama administration had over the course of its tenure. But the White
House does appear to believe that settlement activity, at the very
least, “undermines” and complicates Trump’s efforts to bring both sides
to the negotiating table.
"The United States remains committed to advancing a comprehensive final-status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that results in two states living side-by-side in peace and security," the official said.
In his first week in office, Israel announced it would authorize 2,500
settlement housing units in the West Bank. Days later, it proceeded
with an additional 3,000 units.
Defense minister Avigdor Liberman called it a “new era” for Israel
and the settlement movement.
After the AP and Mexican media reported that Trump had threatening to send the US military to chase “bad hombres” out of Mexico in a phone call with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, the Mexican government has slammed the claim as “a downright lie.”
The statement “did not happen during that call,” the Mexican government said on Twitter.
“I know it with absolute certainty, there was no threat. The things that have been said are nonsense and a downright lie,”Peña Nieto’s spokesman, Eduardo Sanchez, said in a radio interview.
Mexico’s foreign relations department slammed the report, saying its allegations were “based on absolute falsehoods” and “do not correspond to the reality at all.”
“The tone was constructive and it was agreed by the presidents to continue working and that the teams will continue to meet frequently to construct an agreement that is positive for Mexico and for the United States,” the department added, as cited by AP.
The White House has refused to comment, instead pointing to a joint statement regarding the call that appeared on Friday.
The two leaders reportedly spoke about the need to “work together to stop drug cartels, drug trafficking and illegal guns and arms sales.”
At a press conference with UK Prime Minister Theresa May last week, Trump also described his call with Pena Nieto as “friendly.”
A few hours before the statement from the Mexican government was released, the AP and a Mexican news website called Aristegui Noticias reported that Trump had mentioned the possibility of sending US troops to Mexico to stop “bad hombres down there.”
The media outlets cited an excerpt of an alleged transcript of the phone call that they claim they had obtained.
“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” AP cited Trump as saying.
“You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it,” the US president allegedly added
This isn’t the first time Trump is reported to have used the term “bad hombres.” During a presidential debate in October, he pledged to eradicate “drug lords” and “bad people,” saying “we have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out.”
The term has been viral ever since, inciting immense uproar, both on- and offline.
Tensions between the US and Mexico have escalated since Trump once again raised the issue of building a wall between the two countries – at Mexico’s expense.
Afterwards, Pena Nieto canceled his trip to the US that had been scheduled for January 31, while Trump said he would be unable to visit Mexico if its leadership refuses to pay for the wall.
Adding fuel to the fire, last week, the White House suggested imposing a 20 percent tax on imports from Mexico in order to finance the wall. The countries carry out some $1.6 billion in cross-border trade daily.