President-elect Donald Trump’s top adviser on Israel said Thursday that the incoming US leader doesn’t see Jewish settlements in the West Bank as obstacle to peace with the Palestinians, and predicted Trump would keep his campaign promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem — essentially recognizing the holy city as Israel’s capital.
Successive US administrations have maintained that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal and their presence and continued expansion are major stumbling blocks in the path to reaching a peace agreement.
But Trump, Jason Greenblatt told Army Radio, believes Israelis and Palestinians should resolve their differences without the world imposing a peace plan on them.
“Mr. Trump does not view the settlements as an obstacle to peace. I think he would show Gaza as proof of that,” Greenblatt said, referring to Israel’s 2005 unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which included the removal of all Jewish settlements from the coastal enclave.
Rockets from Gaza on Israeli territory continued after the withdrawal, and the IDF has since launched several major military campaigns against Hamas-led groups in Gaza in addition to numerous border clashes.
“The two sides are going to have to decide how to deal with that region, but it’s certainly not Mr. Trump’s view that settlement activity should be condemned and that it is an obstacle to peace, because it is not the obstacle to peace,” Greenblatt noted.
“He thinks that Israel is in a very tough situation and needs to defend itself,” he continued. “He is not going to impose any solution on Israel, he thinks that the peace has to come from the parties themselves.”
Nonetheless, Trump, the victorious Republican nominee, would be willing to help should he be asked to, Greenblatt asserted. “Any meaningful contribution he can offer up he’s there to do, but it’s not his goal, nor should it be anyone else’s goal to impose peace upon the parties.”
Many right-wing Israeli politicians have hailed Trump’s ascension as an opportunity to expand settlement construction, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett even said his election meant Israel could officially drop its commitment to the two-state solution.
“Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the center of the country, which would hurt our security and just cause,” Bennett said Tuesday. “This is the position of the president-elect … The era of a Palestinian state is over.”
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said criticism of Jewish settlements in the West Bank — of the sort heaped on Israel by outgoing President Barack Obama throughout his eight-year tenor — is misguided. “I think the focus that people [place] on settlements is wrong. [The conflict] preceded the settlements by half a century. And when we left Gaza and all the settlements [in 2005], they continued to fire rockets at us,” he said.
Responding to questions about Trump’s declaration that he will move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a campaign claim made by previous presidential hopefuls but never acted on — Greenblatt, an Orthodox Jew, said he believes the president-elect will follow through on the promise.
During the campaign, Trump called Jerusalem “the eternal capital” of Israel and said he was “100 percent for” moving the embassy there.
Congress passed a law in 1995 mandating the move of the embassy to Jerusalem, but allowed the president a waiver. Each president since then has routinely exercised the waiver, citing the national security interests of the United States, despite repeated campaign promises. For Trump to break with decades of precedent would put Washington at odds with nearly all United Nations member states.
“I think if he said it, he’s going to do it. He is different for Israel than any recent president there has been, and I think he’s a man who keeps his word. He recognizes the historical significance of the Jewish people to Jerusalem, unlike, say, UNESCO,” Greenblatt said.
Last month the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) approved a controversial resolution that ignored Jewish and Christian ties to the Temple Mount. The decision came a week after a similar resolution was approved by the body and elicited angry responses from Israel, several world leaders and even the body’s own director-general.
As for his own future, Greenblatt, a real estate lawyer, acknowledged he would be happy to accept a diplomatic position on behalf of Trump in the region.
“It is a little too soon to tell,” he said. “I’d be honored and privileged to serve in that kind of a role; it would be really an incredible opportunity, and a blessing, but a little too soon to tell.
On Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) called on Trump to keep his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
Hotovely said in a statement that she “would like to reiterate Israel’s deep appreciation of President-elect Trump’s declared intention to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.