Trump says settlements not good for peace, but doesn’t wish to condemn Israel

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — President Donald Trump said the expansion of Israeli settlements does not positively impact efforts to reach peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but added he did not wish to condemn the Jewish state.

Trump spoke about the peace process during an interview with Israel Hayom. The daily on Friday published a Hebrew-language translation of an excerpt from the full interview, which the daily promised to publish in full Sunday.

In addition to the settlement issue, Trump also addressed the deal reached last year between the United States under former president Barack Obama and five other world powers and Iran. The deal offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange to a partial scaling back of some of Tehran’s nuclear activities. Israel has opposed the deal, claiming it paved the Islamic Republic’s path to obtaining nuclear weapons. Obama defended it as the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining those capabilities.

Trump said in the interview that the deal was a bad one for Israel, adding this applied both to its application and the negotiations that preceded it. He added he failed to understand how the United States could have consented to the deal. Trump further accused Obama of being biased in Iran’s favor, according to the translation, but added the Iranians failed to reciprocate friendly overtures, defying Obama even before he left office. Trump said the deal should not have been made.

Last week the Trump Administration imposed sanctions on 25 individuals and entities from Iran two days after the administration had put Iran “on notice,” as a White House spokesperson phrased it, following a ballistic missile test.

Speaking about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said he was a good person who wants to do the right thing for Israel and wants peace. He added he has always liked Netanyahu and that they have good chemistry.

Israel Hayom is owned by Sheldon Adelson, a Republican donor and close associate of Netanyahu.

Asked about his plans on whether to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump said Israel should act reasonably in the peace process and expressed hopes for a breakthrough. He added both sides should act reasonably. Asked again about the embassy specifically, he said he is studying the subject and added it is not an easy decision, which has been discussed for many years. Trump also said no one wanted to carry out the decision and that he is thinking about it very seriously.

During the campaign, Trump said he favored moving the embassy, which Congress in 1995 said should be moved, but which has been kept in place by presidential decrees.

During his presidency, Trump does not want to condemn Israel, he told Israel Hayom, citing a long record of international condemnations against Israel. He said Israelis have been through rough times and that he understands and appreciates Israel. He also said peace would be a an excellent development for Israel.

Trump described Israeli settlements as not being positive for efforts to reach peace, explaining they come at the expense of an finite amount of territory being discussed. Asked whether he believes the Palestinians need to make concessions, Trump replied in the affirmative.