A senior adviser to US President Donald Trump met Israeli settler leaders on Thursday in a move that may raise fresh concerns over prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The US embassy confirmed that talks between Jason Greenblatt and leaders of the Israeli settler movement took place in Jerusalem as part of the White House official's wide-ranging meetings this week.
The Yesha Council, the main Israeli settler organisation, said it was believed to be the highest level official meeting the organisation has had with a US administration.
I was extremely fortunate to meet some incredible Israelis and Palestinians on my trip. Thank you all for your perspectives!
— Jason D. Greenblatt (@jdgreenblatt45) March 16, 2017
The meeting was attended by Yesha leaders Oded Revivi and Yossi Dagan.
"Representatives from Yesha have met with [former US secretary of state] John Kerry and others on the sidelines of events, but we have not had official meetings like this," a council spokesman said.
"The previous [US] administration never met like this."
A US government official said "the three discussed the importance of moving forward, in a tangible way, towards peace between Israelis and Palestinians."
The official also said Greenblatt "reiterated to them President Trump's previously expressed views regarding settlements," in an apparent reference to Trump's call last month for Israel to "hold back on settlements for a little bit."
Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law and major obstacles to peace as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.
Trump broke with decades of US policy by saying he was not bound to a two-state solution to the conflict and would be open to one state if it meant peace.
The peace process has been deadlocked since April 2014.
An Israeli analyst agreed that Greenblatt's meeting with settler leaders was unusual, but said he did not disagree with it.
"I think what Jason Greenblatt is doing is to consult with all kinds of political forces," said Eytan Gilboa, an expert on Israeli-US relations with the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies.
"I think it's a good thing he met them. He could have met Hamas as well, as far as I'm concerned, to see what they think about negotiations with Israel," Gilboa said.