New Israel settlements 'may not be helpful' to peace, says US
Building new Israeli settlements "may not be helpful" to achieving peace with Palestinians, the White House has said.
The statement contrasted with earlier signals from President Trump that he did not object to settlement activity.
But it said he did not see settlements as an "impediment to peace" - a departure from previous US positions.
The fate of settlements in the occupied West Bank is one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians.
More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
Israel's pro-settlement government, which had sharp differences with the Obama administration on the issue, felt emboldened when Donald Trump took office last month.
Since then, it has authorised 6,000 new settlement homes, in one of the biggest surges for years.
On Wednesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was moving ahead with plans to set up a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.
The announcement came as Israeli police cleared protesters from the unauthorised settler outpost of Amona. Israel's Supreme Court has ordered Amona to be dismantled because it was built on private Palestinian land.
In the statement on Thursday, the White House said: "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."
But it added that the Trump administration had "not taken an official position on settlement activity", and looked forward to discussing the issue during Mr Netanyahu's visit to Washington later this month.
The White House statement was welcomed by the Jewish settlers' representative body, the Yesha Council.
In December Mr Trump, then the president-elect, said a vote at the UN Security Council condemning settlements was a "big loss" for Israel that "will make it much harder to negotiate peace", vowing to "get it done anyway".
The UN resolution - the first since 1979 to condemn Israel over its settlement policy, and effectively allowed to pass by the Obama administration - said the settlements had "no legal validity" and constituted "a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution".