FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks to Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump during their meeting in New York, September 25, 2016. Kobi Gideon/Government Press Office (GPO)/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump called on "Israel to be reasonable with respect to peace", spelling out in his own words his administration's stance that new settlements on Palestinian land may not be helpful in an interview with an Israeli newspaper.
Trump's comments to Israel Today come as he tones down his pro-Israel bravado ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trip to the White House on Feb. 15.
"I want Israel to be reasonable with respect to peace. I want to see peace happen," Trump said in the interview published on Friday. "I would like to see a level of reasonableness of both parties, and I think we have a good chance of doing that."
During his 2016 election campaign, Trump signalled his presidency would be a boon for Israel and tough on Palestinians. He talked of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, naming an ambassador who backs Israel's settlement programme and exerting no pressure on Israel for peace talks.
Now Trump is adopting a more measured stance. Even though the White House did not join the widespread criticism this week of a new Israeli law which retroactively legalises about 4,000 existing settler homes, its pro-Israel approach shows signs of being more nuanced.
"They [settlements] don't help the process. I can say that," Trump told the Israeli daily owned by U.S. casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a Netanyahu supporter and Republican Party donor.
"Every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left," Trump said. "I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace."
The president said his administration was "looking at some other options" regarding the settlements.
He also said he was still studying the case for relocating the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, a move that could anger the Arab world.
"The embassy is not an easy decision. It has obviously been out there for many, many years, and nobody has wanted to make that decision. I'm thinking about it very seriously, and we will see what happens," Trump said.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; editing by Richard Lough)