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Feb 11, 10:54 AM EST

Trump questions Israel's interest in making peace


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JERUSALEM (AP) -- President Donald Trump questioned Israel's interest in making peace with the Palestinians in an interview published Sunday, spotlighting its West Bank settlements as a complicating factor.

In the interview in the Israel Hayom daily, Trump also cast doubt on the Palestinians' desire to strike a deal. But his comments about Israel mark rare criticism from a president who has publicly sparred with the Palestinians while forging warm ties with Israel ahead of the expected presentation of a U.S. peace outline.

"Right now, I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace, they are not looking to make peace. And I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace. So we are just going to have to see what happens," Trump was quoted as saying. He did not disclose details about the anticipated peace plan.

Israel Hayom is owned by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a Trump backer and a supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the interview, Trump criticized Israel's West Bank settlements, which the Palestinians and most of the international community view as illegal obstacles to peace. The Trump White House has been less publicly critical of Israel's settlement building than previous administrations.

"The settlements are something that very much complicates and always have complicated making peace, so I think Israel has to be very careful with the settlements," he said.

Relations between the U.S. and the Palestinians have spiraled since Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December. Since then he has cut U.S. funding to a U.N. agency that assists Palestinian refugees and threatened to withhold aid money to the Palestinians unless they resume negotiations with Israel.

The Palestinians, who claim Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, saw Trump's announcement as unfairly taking sides with Israel. They say the U.S. is not an honest broker and have pre-emptively rejected any peace proposal presented by the Trump administration.

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