White House: Outpost law will be ‘topic of discussion’ between Trump and Netanyahu
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White House: Outpost law will be ‘topic of discussion’ between Trump and Netanyahu

Press secretary declines to comment on controversial measure passed days after Washington sounded wary tone on settlement expansion

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. Spicer discussed President Donald Trump's travel ban and other topics. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. Spicer discussed President Donald Trump's travel ban and other topics. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON — The White House declined to comment Tuesday on the Knesset’s passing the highly controversial outpost law just days after the Trump administration said settlement expansion “may not be helpful” to achieving Middle East peace.

Asked during a press briefing for a response to Israel’s so-called Regulation Bill passed late Monday evening, Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer merely said the president would discuss it with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when they meet later this month. “I think that will be obviously a topic of discussion,” he said. “Right now, I don’t want to get ahead of that.”

Washington’s silence was conspicuous, with the move having garnered widespread condemnation from the UN, EU, UK and France, not to mention the Muslim world.

The legislation, designed to recognize some 4,000 settler homes built illegally on private Palestinian land, will likely face a legal challenge with Israel’s High Court.

Last week, the Trump White House spoke out for the first time about settlements, offering a mild rebuke amidst a substantial uptick in approvals of construction projects, including roughly 5,500 units in the West Bank and an announcement that Israel will build an entirely new settlement for the first time in a quarter-century.

The administration released a statement on Thursday that said, “While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to the media after arriving at 10 Downing Street in London for a meeting British counterpart Theresa May on February 6, 2017. (AFP PHOTO/Chris J Ratcliffe)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to the media after arriving at 10 Downing Street in London for a meeting British counterpart Theresa May on February 6, 2017. (AFP/Chris J Ratcliffe)

The statement did not mention the two-state solution, which has been viewed by a long line of successive US presidents as the only real path to ending the conflict.

When Spicer was asked on Friday if the president supported a two-state outcome, he did not provide a substantive answer. “The president is committed to peace,” he said. “That’s his goal.”

The two leaders will meet on February 15, when the Israeli premier comes to Washington.

Speaking to reporters from London Monday, Netanyahu, who backed the legislation but did not get back from the UK in time to vote for it, said he had informed the US administration of the vote and that he never intended to delay it until after his upcoming meeting with Trump, despite some urging him to do so.

“I never said I want to push it off,” he said. “I act according to the national interests. In my view, you don’t surprise friends. Friends don’t surprise each other. Friends update each other. That’s what I did.”

Netanyahu stressed that he did not ask the Americans for permission to pass the bill, but that he notified the US counterpart of his intention to bring the motion to a second and third plenum reading.

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