WASHINGTON -- Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump reversed on his earlier pledge to be a neutral arbiter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and offered support for Israel expanding illegal settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.
"I don't think there should be a pause," Trump told The Daily Mail on Monday, when asked if he would pressure Israel to pause settlement construction as part of an effort to renew peace talks with the Palestinians. "I think Israel really have to keep going. They have to keep moving forward."
It's unclear what prompted Trump to take an overtly pro-settlements stance. The reason he offered to the Daily Mail was, "Look, missiles were launched into Israel, and Israel, I think, was never properly treated by our country."
If Trump follows through with this policy -- which is a big if, given his stated preference to be "unpredictable" -- it would reverse decades of bipartisan opposition to Israeli settlement building in the Palestinian territories, which violates international law.
Even hawkish pro-Israel lawmakers who back legislation that has the practical effect of legitimizing and protecting Israeli settlements rarely go so far as to publicly encourage the Israeli government to continue building in the disputed territories.
Trump's remarks on Monday marked the latest in a long list of policy flip flops and contradictions from the casino mogul.
In December, Trump told the Associated Press he would be "very neutral" in his approach to peace talks, and even suggested that the onus was on Israel to make concessions. "A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal -- whether or not Israel's willing to sacrifice certain things," he said.
At the time, there were already reasons to question the neutrality of Trump's stance toward the conflict. He endorsed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2013, who many, including former Secretary of State James Baker, have described as being opposed to a two-state solution.
During a Republican primary candidate debate in November, Trump pointed to Israel's controversial separation barrier, which restricts Palestinian movement into Israel and parts of the West Bank, as a positive precedent in light of his proposal to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
Even after his promise to be an unbiased negotiator, Trump accused President Barack Obama of being the "worst thing that's ever happened to Israel," despite the current administration providing unprecedented levels of aid to Israel.
After a meeting with fellow billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is known to throw his support behind politicians who unconditionally back Israeli policies, Trump bragged, "Sheldon knows that nobody will be more loyal to Israel than Donald Trump."
In March, Trump ditched his usual tactic of off-the-cuff, rambling remarks and dutifully delivered a speech pre-drafted by his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.
In that speech, he slammed Obama for "applying pressure," to Israel, said that "half the population of Palestine has been taken over by the Palestinian ISIS in Hamas," and promised to stand with Israel as president.
Trump's endorsement of Israeli settlement expansion comes two weeks after Israeli media outlets reported that Netanyahu approved over 200 housing units in West Bank settlements. The Israeli prime minister denied the allegations, and said he had only approved upgrades to existing units.
The Palestinians have floated a United Nations Security Council resolution that would condemn Israeli settlement building -- a largely symbolic move that would put the U.S. in the awkward position of having to choose whether or not to exercise its veto power on a resolution that essentially reiterates existing U.S. policy.
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