The United States is in discussion with Israel about holding back on settlement construction, acting State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said Tuesday.
Toner referred to US President Donald Trump’s statement at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February, in which he asked Israel to rein in settlement expansion. “We’re in discussions with Israel about how exactly that would look like that,” he said. “It’s under consideration.”
Regarding the peace process, Toner said the new administration is still “looking at the situation and looking at next steps.” The State Department will definitely play a role, he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, a US official in remarks to the Times of Israel emphasized Trump’s call on both sides to act reasonably.
“As he has made clear, President Trump is committed to working with Israel and the Palestinians on a comprehensive peace deal that will allow both sides to live in the peace and security they deserve,” the administration official said on condition of anonymity.
“The administration needs to have the chance to fully consult with all parties on the way forward. We are just getting that process started,” he added. “As the president has said, he would like to see a ‘level of reasonableness of both parties.’”
The official was referring to comments made in an interview Trump gave the Israel Hayom newspaper last month in which he also said he did not believe settlements were “a good thing for peace.”
“I want Israel to be reasonable with respect to peace,” Trump said at the time. “I want to see peace happen. It should happen. After all these years,” he added. “Maybe there is even a chance for a bigger peace than just Israel and the Palestinians. I would like to see a level of reasonableness of both parties, and I think we have a good chance of doing that.”
In that interview, Trump declined to say if legislation advancing the annexation of even small parts of the West Bank, such as the Jerusalem suburb Ma’aleh Adumim (which is generally agreed will remain part of Israel under any conceivable peace deal), would be considered as “not reasonable” in this context.
Subsequently, at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the president said Israel should “hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
Since Trump’s election, some Likud and Jewish Home MKs have ramped up calls for the annexation of Ma’ale Adumim and other settlements, and on Sunday, Likud MK Miki Zohar called for full Israeli annexation of the West Bank.
A day later, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that he had received a direct message from the US saying that “Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank means an immediate crisis with the new administration.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, and other right-wing politicians, attacked Liberman for his statement, arguing that the White House had not yet formed a coherent policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Liberman, who is opposed to West Bank annexation, should not create self-fulfilling prophesies, right-wing politicians said.
Liberman is holding talks in the US this week with administration officials and others.
The White House official said the administration was aware of Liberman’s comments but refused to “speak publicly about the details of private communications between governments.”