Middle East

Israeli minister criticizes Trump, expects more settlements

A top Israeli minister close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed rare criticism of President Donald Trump on Monday and said he expects the government to approve more construction in West Bank Jewish settlements next week.

Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Zeev Elkin said he is “disappointed” that Trump hasn’t fulfilled his campaign promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a decision that the Palestinians fiercely oppose.

“There were very clear election promises, not to the state of Israel but to the American voter, of moving the embassy and I very much regret the delay,” Elkin told Army Radio.

Israel considers Jerusalem, home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, as its capital. Palestinians demand east Jerusalem for the capital of their future state, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Mideast war, though it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Trump has backed away from the campaign pledge on the embassy move as his Mideast envoy attempts to breathe life into peace talks, which last collapsed in 2014 under US tutelage.

Elkin also said Israel is set to give the green light next week to new homes in Jewish West Bank settlements. Israeli Channel 2 TV reported Sunday that some 4,000 homes are expected to be granted approval. It was not immediately clear how many of the homes would be new projects, in contrast to previously announced projects moving forward in the building process. An official announcement with more details is expected as soon as Tuesday.

The Palestinians, along with much of the international community, consider settlements illegal and an obstacle to reaching a peace deal. Israel disputes this, saying the fate of the settlements should be decided in negotiations.

Two decades of US-led peace plans have called for evacuating settlements to make room for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Netanyahu’s hard-liner base opposes such a move, citing religious, security or nationalistic grounds.

Trump has been more sympathetic to West Bank settlements than his predecessor Barack Obama, gaining fans in Netanyahu’s government and prompting some pro-settler lawmakers to press Netanyahu to exploit the perceived leniency and approve more settlement housing.

The White House expressed ambivalence about the expected housing approvals. One official said Trump “has made clear that unrestrained settlement activity does not advance the prospect for peace.”

However, the official continued, “at the same time the administration recognizes that past demands for a settlement freeze have not helped advance peace talks.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the housing has not officially been approved yet.

The Palestinians, meanwhile, condemned the expected settlement announcement. In a statement, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah urged the international community “to compel Israel to stop settlement activity.” The Palestinians have expressed frustration over Trump’s peace efforts.

Trump’s Mideast envoy, Jason Greenblatt, has been meeting with the sides for several months. But so far, the White House has not announced any plan for resuming negotiations.

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