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Trump Criticizes Settlements ahead of Netanyahu Meeting | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Buildings under construction are seen in the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit. AFP

U.S. President Donald Trump criticized Israel’s settlement growth in Palestinian territories, five days before meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Appearing to soften parts of his previous hardline support for Israeli policies, Trump told the Hebrew-language newspaper Israel Hayom the settlements were not “good” for peace.

“I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace,” he said. “Every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left.”

“I want Israel to be reasonable with respect to peace. I want to see peace happen,” Trump said in the interview published on Friday.

Trump also said moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a policy fiercely opposed by the Palestinians, was “not an easy decision”.

“I am thinking about the embassy, I am studying the embassy (issue),” Trump told the newspaper, owned by Netanyahu ally Sheldon Adelson.

“The embassy is not an easy decision.”

Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to Washington on Monday.

Trump and the Israeli prime minister are expected to discuss next Wednesday settlements, the potential to revive peace talks and the Iran nuclear deal, among other topics.

Trump’s comments were a source of concern for Netanyahu, who is facing pressure from right-wing rivals to accelerate settlement growth in the Palestinian territories and even to abandon the two-state solution.

Naftali Bennett, head of the far-right Jewish Home party and education minister in Israel’s right-wing government, said in November Trump’s victory meant the idea of a Palestinian state was over.

He has called for annexing much of the West Bank, including the major settlement blocks, effectively rendering any hopes for two states dead.