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.”
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.