Trump administration mum as Israel mulls legalizing 66 outposts
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Trump administration mum as Israel mulls legalizing 66 outposts

Past White Houses routinely spoke out against possible Israeli settlement expansion

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

An Israeli girl walks with her bicycle near her home in the wildcat Amona settlement, northeast of the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the Israeli occupied West Bank, on September 7, 2016.
An Israeli court has ruled that the wildcat Jewish settlement of Amona, where Ziv lives alongside around 40 other families in mainly caravan homes, is on Palestinian property and must be evacuated by December 25. Settlements such as Amona are called outposts -- those that Israel has not approved. Outpost residents hope such authorisation will one day be provided, as has occurred in other cases. Amona, one of the largest outposts with between 200 and 300 people, has come to represent a list of issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)
An Israeli girl walks with her bicycle near her home in the wildcat Amona settlement, northeast of the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the Israeli occupied West Bank, on September 7, 2016. An Israeli court has ruled that the wildcat Jewish settlement of Amona, where Ziv lives alongside around 40 other families in mainly caravan homes, is on Palestinian property and must be evacuated by December 25. Settlements such as Amona are called outposts -- those that Israel has not approved. Outpost residents hope such authorisation will one day be provided, as has occurred in other cases. Amona, one of the largest outposts with between 200 and 300 people, has come to represent a list of issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

WASHINGTON, DC — As the Knesset advanced legislation to legalize 66 outposts deep in the West Bank this week, the Trump administration remained notably silent.

Despite US President Donald Trump’s past criticisms of the settlement movement — and declarations that the settlements hurt the possibility of an Israel-Palestinian peace deal — the White House and State Department have declined to weigh in, as Israeli lawmakers push to further entrench these communities into contested territories.

Asked to comment on the bill, known as Regulation Law 2, a State Department spokesperson told The Times of Israel: “Our Near East office advises that since this is about Israeli legislation, they refer you to the Government of Israel.” A White House official also declined to comment.

The legislation, which the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to move forward on Sunday, seeks to regulate hilltop communities built beyond the Green Line over the past 20 years, in light of the High Court of Justice’s freezing of the so-called Regulation Law, sponsored by Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich and passed in February 2017.

Following the bill’s approval, it was immediately castigated by the settlement watchdog Peace Now and the attorney general’s office, which said the proposal “raises significant legal problems, which may even lead to international repercussions and expose Israel to significant risks in this respect.”

US President Donald Trump, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

Trump has, in the past, spoken out against settlements. In his first public appearance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February 2017, he asked the premier to “hold back on settlements for a bit.”

He has also said that settlements make it more difficult to strike a peace deal with the Palestinians.

“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,” he told the Sheldon Adelson-owned right-wing daily Israel Hayom in February.

Past administrations regularly criticized Israel for expanding its settlement presence in the West Bank.

Deliberations over Regulation Law 2 comes as the Trump White House claims it is preparing to release its peace plan. The president said in September that the proposal would be published by January, but it is unclear if the plan will be unveiled by then.

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