US President Donald Trump said in an interview published on Sunday that he is “not necessarily sure” Israel is genuinely seeking to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Trump has previously denounced the Palestinians for what he sees as their unwillingness to negotiate, but he has largely refrained from criticizing Israel.
Speaking to the freebie daily Israel Hayom, Trump noted that while US-Israel relations were “great,” peace with the Palestinians would make them “a lot better.”
“Right now, I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace. They are not looking to make peace,” Trump said in the interview with the right-wing paper. “And I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace. So we are just going to have to see what happens.”
Trump also expressed concerns about Israeli settlement building, although his administration has been far less critical of settlements than that of his predecessor Barack Obama.
Trump’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has in the past been a supporter of settlements in the West Bank.
“The settlements are something that very much complicates and always have complicated making peace, so I think Israel has to be very careful with the settlements,” Trump said.
Trump has said he intends to bring the Israelis and Palestinians to the “ultimate deal” that would resolve the decades-long conflict, but in the interview he questioned whether negotiations were even possible for the time being.
“I don’t know frankly if we are going to even have talks. We will see what happens, but I think it is very foolish for the Palestinians and I also think it would be very foolish for the Israelis if they don’t make a deal,” Trump said. “It’s our only opportunity and it will never happen after this.”
Relations between Washington and the Palestinians have been severely strained since Trump’s December 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the American embassy there. In an address from the White House, Trump described his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.
At the time, Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites. Afterward, however, he said several times that his decision had taken Jerusalem “off the table.”
Palestinian leaders say there can be no peace talks involving the US administration until its decision on the city, whose eastern neighborhoods they claim for a future capital, is reversed.
Trump is also withholding tens of millions of dollars from UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
In his Israel Hayom interview, Trump declined to discuss whether the US would cut off support to countries that boycott Israel.
“I don’t want to say that because you know, some countries maybe and some countries not,” he said. “I just don’t want to talk about that.”
The US leader spoke also about the Obama administration’s ties with Israel and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which he has vowed to see altered to prevent the Iranians from producing or obtaining nuclear weapons in the future.
“I mean you certainly weren’t very close with Obama, he gave you the Iran deal, which basically is a deal that says let’s ultimately do bad things to Israel,” Trump said. “Obama was terrible. He was absolutely terrible for Israel. I think our relationships [US-Israel] are very good. I think they are probably as good as they have ever been.”