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US says settlements 'not helpful' to peace process as Jared Kushner arrives in Israel

June 21, 2017 10:00 P.M. (Updated: June 24, 2017 11:25 A.M.)
The Israeli West Bank settlement of Efrat on September 1, 2014 (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner arrived in Israel Wednesday morning, where he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, marking the beginning of Kushner’s so-called Middle East peace efforts.

Kushner, a real estate developer with little experience in international or Middle Eastern diplomacy, was also expected to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday evening in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

According to Reuters, a video from Wednesday shows Kushner shaking hands with and hugging Netanyahu, a personal friend of Kushner’s father, as they prepared for a meeting with the Israeli ambassador to the US, the US ambassador to Israel, and other senior officials.

"This is an opportunity to pursue our common goals of security, prosperity and peace," Netanyahu said, adding that “I know of your efforts, the president's efforts, and I look forward to working with you to achieve these common goals."

Reuters reported that Israeli and US officials provided no information on what was to be discussed during the meeting, and that there were no plans for Kushner to speak to the media or take any questions.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the US State Department reiterated the Trump administration's position on Israel’s continued illegal settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territory, saying that settlement construction “is unhelpful” to Trump’s peace efforts in the region, according to Israeli news daily Haaretz.

The State Department's new spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, was asked during a press briefing about the Israeli government's latest announcements of settlement construction, which come while Trump is making a push to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Nauert responded that Trump has not changed his mind on this issue.

"The president has been clear all along -- his position on this has not changed -- and that is that we see settlements as something that does not help the peace process," state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in response to questions about the Israeli government’s latest announcements of settlement construction.

On the same day as Nauert’s statements, the Israeli government broke ground on the first new illegal Israeli settlement to be built in the occupied West Bank in 25 years, a plan that was championed and pushed forward by Netanyahu himself.

Haaretz quoted an anonymous White House official as saying that Kushner and national security aid Jason Greenblatt “want to hear the two leaders',” referring to Netanyahu and Abbas, “positions on various central issues, like borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, settlements and others, in order to map out the differences between the sides on each issue.”

“One of the ideas being considered in the White House is to formulate an American document of principles for solving these central issues on the base of renewing peace talks,” Haaretz said.

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