WASHINGTON — President Trump backed away from America’s decades-old support of a two-state solution as the only answer for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday, expressing ambivalence at how to proceed towards peace during a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I’m looking at two-state, and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like, I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I could live with either one,” Trump said as Netanyahu chuckled. “I thought for a while the two-state looked like it might be the easier of the two, but honestly if Bibi, and if the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy I’m happy with the one they like the best.”
The U.S. government has argued for decades that the only way to permanent peace between Israel and the Palestinian people is a two-state solution. But Trump has made strong indications that he’ll do everything he can to tighten relations with Netanyahu, even if that means abandoning previous policies supported by both Democrats and Republicans.
Trump also made a tepid request for Netanyahu to pause new settlement construction in the West Bank, an issue other U.S. Presidents have been much more forceful about. Trump said throughout the campaign that he wouldn’t seek to stop Israel from doing what it wants.
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“As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit,” he said, turning to Netanyahu and almost stating it like a question. “We’ll work something out but I’d like to see a deal be made.”
“We’ll try,” Netanyahu interjected.
“That doesn’t sound too optimistic,” Trump said to laughs from the Israeli prime minister.
Netanyahu later said that building new settlements are “not the core of the conflict, nor does it really drive the conflict.”
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Trump also waffled once again on whether the U.S. will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a campaign promise. Israel wants to see it happen, but the move would enrage many Arab allies. Trump promised throughout the campaign and as President-elect to do so, but had indicated in recent days that he’s not sure if it’s worth the trouble.
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He sounded more likely than not that he’d do it on Wednesday, however.
“As far as the embassy moving to Jerusalem, I’d love to see that happen, we’re looking at that very, very strongly, we’re looking at that with great care, great care, believe me, and we’ll see what happens,” he said, adding his ultimate goal is peace.
He also noted any agreement would require compromise on both sides.
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Netanyahu, for his part, said “persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state” is what prevents peace between the two sides.
He did not rule out a two-state solution, which he’s supported publicly in the past, but said the Palestinians would have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that Israel would have to retain control “in the area west of the Jordan River” — the West Bank.
The meeting came before the leaders had sat down for their first bilateral meeting as heads of government, breaking the norm of world leaders meeting with the President and then coming out to talk to the press about what they’d discussed.
Trump and Netanyahu both highlighted their longstanding relationship, with Netanyahu pointing out that he’d known Trump for years — and indicating he’s known Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner even before that.
The press conference was the latest sign that the Trump administration will do everything it can to keep a close relationship with Netanyahu’s government, and be less willing to criticize it than other past administrations of both parties.
Netanyahu had a strained relationship with former President Barack Obama.Send a Letter to the Editor