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February 05, 2017

Team Trump finally brings realism to US Mideast policy

If you buy most of the initial media coverage, the Trump White House just rebuked Israel on West Bank settlements — much as the Obama crew did on its way out. That’s almost perfectly wrong.

Yes, spokesman Sean Spicer did say, “The construction of new settlements . . . may not be helpful” in reaching peace.

This followed Israel’s announcement of its first new West Bank settlement in nearly 25 years. But as rebukes go, it was pretty mild — certainly compared to what Israel’s been hearing these past eight years.

And Spicer also said flatly, “We don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace” — as dramatic a reversal of the Obama-era stance as can be imagined.

Indeed, he added, President Trump “has not taken an official position on settlement activity.” That’s a turnaround not only from Obama but also nearly all his predecessors.

As John Podhoretz notes in Commentary, this also essentially negated Obama’s insistence that any peace deal must be based on Israel’s return to the pre-1967 borders. For that matter, Spicer spoke only of the goal of “peace” — not a two-state solution.

Which strongly suggests that this president understands, unlike Obama, that Israeli settlements aren’t the prime stumbling block to reaching a Mideast settlement.

The main obstacle is the Palestinians’ opposition to a Jewish state in any borders — and their continuing refusal to sit down with Israel and negotiate, even after a full, 10-month settlement freeze.

Far from slamming Israel, Trump signaled a return to reality-based Middle East policy. That makes chances for peace better — if the Palestinians will accept reality.

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