Dan Senor: Trump Returning to Bush Era Policy on Israeli Settlements

February 3, 2017

Political adviser Dan Senor joined MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle and former Hillary Clinton strategist Joel Benenson on Friday morning to discuss the Trump administration's shifting policy on Israeli settlements, arguing the president is taking a similar position to George W. Bush.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced this week that thousands of new settlement units would be built in the West Bank along with a new settlement.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer then issued a statement on Thursday on the building of settlements.

"While we don't believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving its goal," Spicer said.

The statement appeared to some to signal a change in Trump's policy on Israel. He has previously said he wants to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and strongly criticized the Obama administration's decision to abstain from voting against the U.N.'s condemnation of Israeli settlements in December.

Senor, however, did not see the White House statement as a major reversal of policy.

"I am not one to pile on with Donald Trump's critique of the media. However, I think the media does itself, the press, a disservice, particularly on this story," Senor said. "Israel, which breathlessly reported that Trump was reverting back to Obama's policy on settlements, it's just factually incorrect."

Senor said it was "factually incorrect" for the media to report that Trump is reverting to Obama's policy on settlements.

"He's reverting back to George W. Bush's policy," he said. "In 2004, George W. Bush wrote a letter to Ariel Sharon which became U.S. policy which basically said, in a future settlement agreement we will recognize existing settlement blocks, we will allow growth within settlements ... but you can't expand the perimeter and you can't create new ones."

"That was not President Obama's policy," Senor continued. "President Obama's policy of building up or building out was actually a violation of international law and an obstacle to peace. That was the equivalent of building a new settlement. President Obama actually through his U.N. Security Council resolution basically called neighborhoods in east Jerusalem settlements–that is not what Donald Trump said."

Benenson agreed that Trump was returning to Bush's policy but said it was also sending mixed signals to the rest of the world, including U.S. allies.

"We are the strongest country on earth not just because we are powerful but because of our alliances we have around the world that manage the geopolitical situation," he said. "I think Donald Trump and his team need to get a greater respect for that and the need for our alliances to be strong."

"There is a certain line in that statement that says 'we do not believe settlements are an obstacle to peace,'" Senor replied. "That line would not have been put in there without coordination with the Israeli government. So at least that's one alliance that so far remains intact."

"So far," Ruhle said.