Breitbart, a news website closely associated with the Trump Administration, accused the New York Times of publishing “fake news” in claiming that the Trump Administration came out against the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria and further construction in those communities.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer addressed the Administration’s views on the so-called “settlements” in a press briefing at the White House Thursday.
“The American desire for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians has remained unchanged for 50 years. 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. As the President has expressed many times, he hopes to achieve peace throughout the Middle East region. The Trump administration has not taken an official position on settlement activity and looks forward to continuing discussions, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he visits with President Trump later this month.” Spicer said.
The New York Times seized on a single phrase from Spicer’s remarks, “may not be helpful,” to argue that the Trump Administration was asking Israel not to build any Jewish homes over the 1949 armistice lines.
The Times wrote: “In the most startling shift, the White House issued an unexpected statement appealing to the Israeli government not to expand the construction of Jewish settlements beyond their current borders in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Such expansion, it said, “may not be helpful in achieving” the goal of peace.
Breitbart wrote in response to the Times that Spicer’s statement “tacitly accepts all existing settlements.”
Legal scholar Eugene Kontorovich explained that Spicer’s statements represented a radical shift from the policies of the Obama Administration, which called for a total freeze on all Jewish construction over the 1949 armistice lines, including for natural growth and expansions of existing houses such as new porches and attics.
Kontorovich said: “The White House Press Secretary’s statement about settlement building is a huge change of policy, in which the U.S. broadly accepts all building within settlements, including those settlements outside of “blocs.” This is huge.”
“In the statement, the White House says the building of entirely “new settlements” is not great (but not sharply criticized). On the other hand, building “within existing settlement lines,” ie municipal boundaries, is totally OK. Since all building for 20 years has been within existing lines, and all planned building is within existing lines, this is as big an authorization as it gets.
“This is such a big deal, that the press is trying to spin it as a limitation on settlement activity, whereas it is a broad and historic green light. It can no longer be said that the US opposes settlement building.”
Commentary Magazine editor John Podhoretz wrote that while the Trump Administration has yet to fully form its policy on Judea and Samaria, Spicer’s statement restores US policy “to the policy outlined in a letter sent from George W. Bush to Ariel Sharon in 2004,” in which former President Bush agreed that it was unrealistic to expect Israel to return to the 1949 armistice lines and that the major blocs in Judea and Samaria would likely remain part of Israel in any final-status agreement.
Podhoretz also pointed out that while the White House statement said that Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria “may not be helpful” in achieving peace, no mention was made during the statement of the two-state solution.