(JTA) — President Donald Trump said the expansion of Israeli settlements does not help peacemaking efforts 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, an Israeli daily owned by Sheldon Adelson, a Republican donor and close associate of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli daily published an excerpt Friday and promised to publish the interview in full on Sunday. Adelson and his wife dined with Trump at the White House Thursday.
Asked about Israeli settlements, Trump said they “don’t help the process. I can say that. There is so much land left. And every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left.”
But when asked whether he would condemn Israel for its settlements activities, he said: “No, I don’t want to condemn Israel. Israel has had a long history of condemnation and difficulty. And I don’t want to be condemning Israel. I understand Israel very well, and I respect Israel a lot, and they have been through a lot.”
In addition to the settlement issue, Trump also addressed the Iran nuclear deal.
“The deal with Iran was a disaster for Israel. Inconceivable that it was made. It was poorly negotiated and executed,” Trump said.
The 2015 agreement reached between Iran and the United States under former President Barack Obama and five other world powers offers Iran sanctions relief in exchange for a partial scaling back of some of its 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.
Instead of Iran “being thankful” to Obama “for making such a deal, which was so much to their advantage, they felt emboldened even before he left office,” Trump said. “It is too bad a deal like that was 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 spokesman phrased it, following a ballistic missile test.
Speaking about Netanyahu, Trump said they “have good chemistry” and the prime minister “is a good man.”
“He wants to do the right thing for Israel. He would like peace; I believe that he wants peace and wants to have it badly. I have always liked him,” Trump said.
Asked about his plans on whether to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, Trump said Israel should act “reasonably” in the peace process and expressed hopes for a breakthrough. He added that both sides should act reasonably.
Asked again about the embassy specifically, he said he was studying the subject and added it is not an easy decision and 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.
“I am thinking about the embassy, I am studying the embassy, and we will see what happens,” he said.
During the campaign, Trump said he favored moving the embassy, which Congress said in 1995 should be moved, but which has been kept in place by presidential decrees.
Asked whether he believes the Palestinians need to make concessions, Trump replied in the affirmative.