TEL AVIV – The U.S. is in discussions with Israel about holding back on settlement activity, acting State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said Tuesday.
“We’re in discussions with Israel about how exactly that would look,” Toner said in reference to Israeli construction in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. “It’s under consideration.”
Some of Judaism’s holiest sites are located in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount and Western Wall in Jerusalem; the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron; and Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus.
Toner also said the State Department was working closely with the White House to formulate a new Middle East policy, saying the administration was “looking at the situation and looking at next steps.”
At a joint press briefing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month, President Donald Trump said Israel should “hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
An administration official, speaking to the Times of Israel on condition of anonymity, emphasized Trump’s call for both sides to act reasonably.
“As he has made clear, President Trump is committed to working with Israel and the Palestinians on a comprehensive peace deal that will allow both sides to live in the peace and security they deserve,” he said.
“The administration needs to have the chance to fully consult with all parties on the way forward. We are just getting that process started,” he added. “As the president has said, he would like to see a ‘level of reasonableness of both parties.’”
Trump first expressed that sentiment in an interview with the daily Israel Hayom newspaper last month.
“I want Israel to be reasonable with respect to peace,” Trump said. “I want to see peace happen. It should happen. After all these years. Maybe there is even a chance for a bigger peace than just Israel and the Palestinians. I would like to see a level of reasonableness of both parties, and I think we have a good chance of doing that.”
Since coming into office, Israel’s nationalist politicians have called to annex swaths of the West Bank, beginning with the Jerusalem-area town of Ma’ale Adumim.
At the press briefing, Toner was asked if the State Department took any steps at the behest of the Trump administration to stop a last minute decision by the Obama administration to send $220 million to the Palestinian Authority. Toner answered that he was unaware if any changes had been made.
After the payout’s authorization in the last hours of the Obama administration, an unnamed Palestinian official told the Times of Israel that the incoming administration had informed the PA that it was freezing the transfer.