Despite the shift, the White House said it hadn’t taken an official position on Israeli settlements, saying it would wait until Trump meets with Netanyahu later this month to formally develop a position.
“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 in achieving that goal,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in a statement.
“The Trump administration has not taken an official position on settlement activity and looks forward to continuing discussions, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he visits with President Trump later this month,” Spicer said.
Netanyahu is due at the White House for talks on February 15. Israel announced a large new expansion of projects shortly after Trump was sworn in.
Trump lambasted the previous administration for allowing a United Nations Security Council resolution to pass that condemned Israel’s settlements. The move drove a wedge between the incoming and outgoing administrations during the transition period after Trump spoke out vocally against the resolution.
Shortly after taking office, Trump spoke with Netanyahu in a conversation that both sides described as warm.
Israel since then has announced new plans to establish a settlement in the West Bank, replacing the illegal Amona construction that was demolished this week. The announcement represented the first new settlement activity in several years.
President Barack Obama was sharply critical of settlement activity, a stance that caused friction between himself and Netanyahu. Trump, meanwhile, has signaled a more tolerant view, naming a US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who supports an expansion of settlements.