Israel should keep building settlements in the West Bank, Republican front-runner Donald Trump said on Tuesday, linking construction to the continued rocket threat that Israel faces from the Gaza Strip and which has seen it drawn into three wars against Hamas-run Gaza in recent years.
In an interview with the British Daily Mail on Tuesday, Trump said there should be no pause in settlement construction, a position at odds with that of the Obama administration, which in 2009 encouraged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to implement a freeze new construction for 10 months in an effort restart stalled peace talks with the Palestinians. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to negotiate until the very end of the freeze, which Netanyahu then refused to extend.
Asked if there should be a pause in settlement building, Trump was quoted answering as follows: “No, I don’t think it is, because I think Israel should have – they really have to keep going. They have to keep moving forward… I don’t think there should be a pause… Look: Missiles were launched into Israel, and Israel, I think, never was properly treated by our country. I mean, do you know what that is, how devastating that is?”
“You have hundreds and, I guess, thousands of missiles being launched into Israel, who would put up with that? Who would stand for it?” he added.
In July 2014, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in an effort to stop rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip into Israel, which came after Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank following the kidnapping and murder by a Hamas-affiliated cell of three Israeli teenagers earlier that summer. Over the course of the 50-day war, Hamas and other Gaza terror groups launched thousands of rockets indiscriminately into Israel.
Sporadic rocket fire into Israel continues, to which Israel usually responds with air strikes.
Trump’s stance favoring settlements is at odds with traditional US opposition to the settlement enterprise. Settlements are seen as an impediment by proponents of the two-state solution, which who would see a Palestinian state alongside Israel in most of the West Bank and all of Gaza. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, dismantling all settlements there. Hamas took over in a coup against the Palestinian Authority in 2007.
Trump said that despite supporting continued settlement building — a sticking point for the Palestinians who insist all construction must stop while negotiations take place — he’d like to help restart peace talks.
“With all of that being said, I would love to see if peace could be negotiated. A lot of people say that’s not a deal that’s possible. But I mean lasting peace, not a peace that lasts for two weeks and they start launching missiles again. So we’ll see what happens,” he said.
Asked about Netanyahu, Trump said he was a “very good guy” whom he didn’t know that well.
“I think I’d have a very good relationship with him,’ Trump said, adding that he thinks “Obama has been extremely bad to Israel.”
Israel began building settlements in the West Bank after it captured the territory, hitherto controlled by Jordan, in the Six Day War in 1967. Today, over 250,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements and outposts.