Trump: 'I don't want to condemn Israel' over illegal settlements

US President Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump says Israel’s construction of illegal settlements on the occupied Palestinian lands is not a good thing but “I don’t want to condemn Israel.”  

Trump made the remarks in an interview with an Israeli newspaper published on Friday, days ahead of his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.

“No, I don’t want to condemn Israel,” Trump told Israel Hayom. “Israel has had a long history of condemnation and difficulty. And I don’t want to be condemning Israel. I understand Israel very well, and I respect Israel a lot, and they have been through a lot.”

"They (settlements) don't help the process. I can say that,” he told the pro-Netanyahu daily.  “There is so much land left. And every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left. But we are looking at that, and we are looking at some other options we'll see. But no, I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace."

This is while the Trump administration struck a tougher line with Israel, warning that building new settlements or expanding existing ones "may not be helpful" to efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meeting with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump inside Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016.

"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," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said in a statement on February 2.

The statement was a departure from Trump’s full-throated defense of the Israeli settlement constructions on the occupied Palestinian territories, which are considered illegal under international law.

Before taking office, Trump slammed the administration of former President Barack Obama for not vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements.

Trump’s first foreign call as president was to Netanyahu, who is expected to visit the White House on February 15.

Over half a million Israelis live in more than 230 illegal settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem al-Quds.

This file photo shows a general view of the illegal Israeli Ramat Shlomo settlement in East Jerusalem al-Quds. (Photo by AFP)

The continued expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine has created a major obstacle to the efforts to establish peace in the Middle East.

The Palestinian Authority wants the West Bank as part of a future independent Palestinians state, with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital.

"Well, I want Israel to be reasonable with respect to peace. I want to see peace happen. It should happen," Trump told the Israeli paper.

“After all these years. ... 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,” he added.

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