President Trump made a foreign policy move Thursday almost as surprising as alienating Australians: He appeared to shift policy on Israel, taking a line closer to that of the Obama administration and warning the country that announcing new or expanded settlements is "undermining" peace efforts, the Jerusalem Post reports. Israel approved thousands of new settler homes on the West Bank just days after Trump's inauguration. A White House official tells the Post that the Trump administration supports a two-state solution and "remains committed to advancing a comprehensive final-status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians." In other coverage:
- In what was seen as an attempt to dial back the statements made to the Post a little, the White House issued a statement later in the day saying it has no "official position on settlement activity," the Washington Post reports. But though the administration doesn't believe settlements are "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," the statement said.
- The New York Times describes the new attitude to settlements as an "abrupt turnaround" and notes that the shift came after Trump briefly met Jordan's King Abdullah II at the National Prayer Breakfast. Trump will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Feb. 15.
- Haaretz looks at what's new and what isn't in the White House statements, concluding that the Trump administration is taking much the same line as US administrations have done for decades, though his policies appears to have more in common with George W. Bush's approach than Barack Obama's.
- The Guardian reports that Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely slammed the White House for criticizing settlement policy. "The current Israeli government was elected to act on the Jewish People's right to build in all parts of our land and we must respect the will of the people who elected us for this purpose," she said in a statement.
- The AP reports that a spokesman for a group representing Israeli settlers brushed off the White House statements, which came hours after Netanyahu vowed that the first new settlements in the West Bank, as opposed to expansions, since 1992 would be built as soon as possible. "Nothing is more natural and morally just than Jews building in Judea," said a rep from the Yesha settlers' council. "We look forward to working closely with our friends in the new Trump administration to build a brighter future."
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