Wednesday, May 23, 2018 | ePaper

Israeli settlements complicate peace process: Trump

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US President Donald Trump (R) speaks with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Davos, Switzerland

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"I don't know frankly if we are going to even have talks, we will see what happens," he said in an interview published Sunday with the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom. "Right now, I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace, they are not looking to make peace. And I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace."
One of the primary issues is the continued Israeli push to build settlements on Palestinian territory. In a possible jab at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose time in office has been defined in large part by settlement expansion, Trump acknowledged that settlements are making the peace process more difficult.
"Israel has to be careful with settlements," Trump warned. "The settlements are something that very much complicates and always have complicated making peace."
He appeared to contradict himself, expressing doubt about the likelihood of a peace process but also proclaiming that the opportunity has never been more ripe. U.S.-Israeli relations are at an all-time high, he said, and the chance to make peace "will never happen after this."
Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December, announcing an imminent embassy move from Tel Aviv. Protests raged for days following the announcement, although Trump says he views the decision as one of the highlights of his first year in office.
"The capital, having Jerusalem be your great capital was a very important thing to a lot of people," Trump said. "I have been thanked and in some cases not thanked, to be 100% honest about it. But it was a very important pledge that I made and I fulfilled my pledge."
Netanyahu praised the move, while a furious Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would refuse to let the U.S. serve as a peace mediator going forward.
Trump followed up by withdrawing $65 million in aid from the U.N. agency that serves Palestinian refugees.
AFP adds: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he has been discussing legislation with the United States that would effectively annex settlements in the occupied West Bank, a spokesman said.
The move would severely damage remaining prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and draw international outrage.
"Regarding the issue of applying sovereignty, I can tell you that I have for some time been speaking with the Americans about it," Netanyahu told lawmakers from his Likud party, according to comments relayed by a spokesman. Netanyahu said he wanted to coordinate any such "historic" move with the United States because of the country's strategic importance to Israel, his spokesman said.
Some Israeli media interpreted the comments as the first time Netanyahu expressed support for annexing the settlements.
Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, condemned the remarks as amounting to "land theft" with US complicity.
The comments come with Netanyahu under pressure from right-wing politicians to move ahead with legislation that would apply Israeli sovereignty to settlements in the West Bank.
Two lawmakers, including one from Netanyahu's party, have proposed such legislation.
Netanyahu blocked it from being advanced on Sunday, with officials citing the need to focus on security issues following a confrontation that led to Israeli air strikes in Syria at the weekend.
Unilateral annexation of settlements would be sure to draw international outrage, though Netanyahu's government has been bolstered by the unstinting support of US President Donald Trump.
Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December in a move praised by Netanyahu as "historic" but denounced by the Palestinians and most of the rest of the world.
But as Netanyahu's comments made headlines on Monday and US officials failed to confirm the discussions he spoke of, an Israeli official issued a clarification.
Netanyahu "did not present the United States with specific annexation proposals, and in any case the United States did not give its consent to the proposals", the official said on condition of anonymity.
"Israel updated the United States on various proposals raised in the (parliament), and the United States expressed its clear position that it seeks to advance President Trump's peace plan."
The official added that Netanyahu's position "is that if the Palestinians persist in their refusal to negotiate peace, Israel will present its own alternatives".

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