Following the news media is a frustrating exercise lately - because the amount of lies and spin is off the charts. All that can be trusted are primary sources (and sometimes they are iffy.)
It started off yesterday with a leak reported to the Jerusalem Post:
The White House warned Israel on Thursday to cease settlement announcements that are “unilateral” and “undermining” of President Donald Trump’s effort to forge Middle East peace, a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post.How accurate is this? It is unclear. But this leak seems to be what prompted the White House Press Secretary to issue an official statement that is being heavily spun as a slap at Israel:
For the first time, the administration confirmed that Trump is committed to a comprehensive two-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict negotiated between the parties
The official told the Post that the White House was not consulted on Israel’s unprecedented announcement of 5,500 new settlement housing units over the course of his first two weeks in office.
“As President Trump has made clear, he is very interested in reaching a deal that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is currently exploring the best means of making progress toward that goal,” the official said.
"With that in mind, we urge all parties to refrain from taking unilateral actions that could undermine our ability to make progress, including settlement announcements,” the official added. “The administration needs to have the chance to fully consult with all parties on the way forward.”
The American desire for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians has remained unchanged for 50 years. 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. As the President has expressed many times, he hopes to achieve peace throughout the Middle East region. The Trump administration has not taken an official position on settlement activity and looks forward to continuing discussions, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he visits with President Trump later this month.
The Washington Post headline is typical:
Trump warns Israel that new settlements ‘may not help’ achieve Middle East peace
The New York Times claimed that Trump embraced Obama's foreign policy principles and that this was an "abrupt turnaround" in Trump's policy towards Israel.
But while the White House has not given Israel carte blanche to build settlements anywhere, this is the first official White House statement on the issue - and unlike the media spin, it is a massive sea change from what the Obama administration has stated.
It explicitly says that settlements are not an impediment to peace. This goes against US policy for decades. (Reagan said they weren't illegal but he never went this far.)
It says that new settlement construction may not be helpful - not that it is an obstacle to peace.
It implies that there is absolutely no problem with Israel building within existing settlement borders. Which accounts for essentially all the building in Judea and Samaria in nearly two decades.
It implies that Israel can build all it wants in Jerusalem, since all that building is within the municipal borders.
The news media, as usual, is reporting this versus a perception of a Trump White House that was more pro-settlements than Netanyahu is. But Trump has made clear from the start that he would love to find a way to make peace between Israel and the Arab world as well - he never implied a hands-off policy. The reason the news media is spinning this as a slap at Israel is because they falsely spun the Trump position beforehand.
But when you remove the spin, this is the most far reaching statement condoning settlement activity in US history.
Things might still change, of course. Netanyahu will meet Trump soon and things will become clearer then.
However, this White House statement is remarkable not for its supposed slap at Israel but for its huge break with the official position most previous presidents, and it is 180 degrees from the position of President Obama.
If the media wants to spin this otherwise, let them. What matters are facts, not reporters' wishful thinking.
UPDATES: I added the NYT quote.
Also The Guardian, in reporting this, suddenly admitted that its reporting on settlements for two decades has been lying : "Settlement construction since 1991 has been within existing blocs."