of story serves two propagandist purposes. First, it provides a kind of
justification for Obama’s betrayal of Israel at the UN Security Council over
settlements last month; second, it nods at the old NeverTrump claim that
Trump would never keep his word to conservatives.
just one problem: the story is false.
the exact wording of the White House statement on Thursday (emphasis added):
The American desire for
peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians has remained unchanged for 50
years. 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. As the President has expressed many
times, he hopes to achieve peace throughout the Middle East region. 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.
The New York Times pounced on the phrase “may not be
In the most startling
shift, the White House issued an unexpected statement appealing to the Israeli
government not to expand the construction of Jewish settlements beyond their
current borders in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Such expansion, it said,
“may not be helpful in achieving” the goal of peace.
statement is only “startling” if one is unaware of the history and geography
of the region. In fact, the statement tacitly
accepts all existing settlements. (One wonders when the penny will
drop, and when the Times editorial page
will attack Trump for provoking Middle East tensions with the same statement.)
too, that Obama insisted on a complete “settlement freeze,” including
expansion within existing settlements, and later allowed the UN Security
Council to declare the entire Israeli presence beyond the “1967 lines”
— including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem — a “flagrant
violation” of international law. The Trump administration’s statement is a complete
reversal of the Obama administration’s policy.
scholar Eugene Kontorovich explains:
The White House Press
Secretary’s statement about settlement building is a huge change of policy, in
which the U.S. broadly accepts all building within settlements, including those
settlements outside of “blocs.” This is huge.
In the statement, the White
House says the building of entirely “new settlements” is not great (but not
sharply criticized). On the other hand, building “within existing settlement
lines,” ie municipal boundaries, is totally OK. Since all building for 20
years has been within existing lines, and all planned building is within
existing lines, this is as big an authorization as it gets.
This is such a big deal,
that the press is trying to spin it as a limitation on settlement activity,
whereas it is a broad and historic green light. It can no longer be said that
the US opposes settlement building.
the White House deliberately spun the statement as a limitation to fool the
media. That is not hard to do, and it is to President Trump’s benefit, as
a negotiating tactic, to appear unpredictable — aggressive one moment,
compromising the next.
the Trump administration has just signaled its intent to back a permanent
Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), with
or without a Palestinian state. The Palestinians will see what the Times missed.
The Times makes several other slips in its effort to liken
Trump’s policy to Obama’s. It claims that UN Ambassador Nikki Haley was
emulating her predecessor, Samantha Power, when she talked tough about Russia
this week — as if the Obama administration ever made a serious effort to
confront Russian ambitions in Eastern Europe, diplomatically or otherwise. And
on the Iran deal the Times reports that the
administration has “shown no indication that it plans to rip up Mr. Obama’s
landmark nuclear deal.” In fact, Trump’s policy from
a very early stage was to beat Iran through harsh enforcement: “I
would police that contract so tough that they don’t have a chance,” he said
in August 2015 on NBC News’ Meet the Press.
Trump is treading carefully in the Middle East. But he is taking a different
path than his predecessors. And the mainstream media, more eager to score
political points than to report the news, are setting themselves up for failure