WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump said Wednesday he supported the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel, which could signal the death of a fundamental strategy of peace negotiations in the Middle East. To a new agreement.
Trump seems to open negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at their White House press conference calling Israel directly to reduce the construction of Jewish houses in the West Bank.
In his most important remarks as president on the chances of peace in the Middle East, Trump said he “could live with” either a separate Palestinian state or a unitary state as a peaceful outcome.
“I want the one that both sides want,” he said.
This is a significant departure from the past US policy that supports the goal of independent Palestine. The Republican and Democratic presidents supported a future Palestine on the lands of the West Bank which is currently mainly under Israeli military occupation. For years, US officials have endorsed “two states for two peoples, living side by side in peace and security” as a matter of course.
“I would like you to stop a little bit on the settlements,” he said while hosting Netanyahu for their first meeting since the Republican president took office. “We will work something,” he added.
The new President of the United States has confidently predicted that he will help finance the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has been going on for decades.
“I would like to see an agreement being made, I think an agreement will be made,” Trump said. “I know that all the presidents would like to … Most of them did not come late, because they never thought it was possible, and it was not possible because they have not done so.
Trump gave no timetable for the effort, but suggested it will come soon. He flattered Netanyahu, but he also pressured him.
“Bibi and I have known each other for a long time,” Trump continued, using the nickname of the Israeli leader. “A smart man, a great negotiator, and I think we will reach an agreement.
Then, with his body turned towards Netanyahu, Trump put him on the spot:
“So let’s see what we’re doing,” he asked.
“Let’s try,” Netanyahu replied.
He did not seem happy, but Trump laughed.
“This does not seem too optimistic,” Trump said. – Good negotiator.
To this, Netanyahu has cleared up.
“It’s the art of business,” he laughs.
The two leaders seemed to indicate that what was once an accepted formula of two sovereign states is now open to a broader scope of ideas on what might culminate in a peace agreement. They all underlined a regional approach that would involve a wide range of states in the Middle East and, by default, the Palestinians.
“The Israelis will have to be flexible, which is difficult – it’s hard to do,” said Mr. Trump. “They will have to show the fact that they really want to make a deal. I think our new concept that we have been discussing for some time is something that allows them to show more flexibility than they have in the past, because we have a much bigger web to play with. “
Netanyahu said that the Palestinians first must recognize Israel as the Jewish state and stop demanding its destruction. He insisted that Israel retain security on the western shores of the Jordan, a strip of land that would allow Israel to encircle any future Palestinian state.
“I want to deal with substance, not labels. The world is set on labels and not on substance,” Netanyahu said in response to a question about the future of two states. “But if anyone believes that I, as Prime Minister of Israel, responsible for the security of my country, would blindly walk in a Palestinian terrorist state that seeks the destruction of my country, they are gravely erroneous.”
Netanyahu’s caution stems in part from his skepticism about a peace agreement and partly from political pressure at home. The Israeli right-wing extremist, elements that Netanyahu needs as part of his government coalition, would have prompted him to make no concessions in Washington and not even pronounce the words “two-state solution.”
Although Trump did not reject the idea of two states, many Palestinians would see any change in the United States as a virtual abandonment of a principle also adopted by the European Union and the United Nations. The United States is still part of the international negotiating body known as the Quartet, which is promised to two states through negotiations.
“We believe that the two-state solution is not a joke,” said Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official and former peace negotiator. “It is a disaster and a tragedy for Israelis and Palestinians.”
Erekat, a veteran of seven rounds of peace talks negotiated by the United States with Israel, said the Palestinian Authority remains committed to the idea of two states. He said Israeli leaders and supporters of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank are opposed to a Palestinian state.
CIA chief Mike Pompeo on Tuesday held secret talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, a senior Palestinian official said.
Erekat said the two-state alternative was “a single secular democratic state for Jews, Muslims and Christians” with all rights for all. Such a single State, from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, would have an almost equal number of Jewish and Muslim voters.
Currently, Palestinians in the West Bank live under a military occupation of nearly 50 years. In the separate Gaza Strip, the population lives under severe controls on trade and travel.
“For those who think that the current system is acceptable, having a state with two systems – which is apartheid – I do not think they can support it,” Erekat said, “not in the 21st century.”
Netanyahu warned that a Palestinian state could be quickly taken over by the Islamist Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip and is committed to the destruction of Israel. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars over the past nine years.
Netanyahu publicly supported the idea of two states for two peoples in 2009. It was partly a gesture to the new President of the United States, Barack Obama, but their relationship quickly worsened.
The last time Netanyahu was a candidate in 2015, he promised voters that a Palestinian state would never be created under his watch. He then resumed the statement.
Gilad Erdan, Israeli Minister of Public Security and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said on the Israeli army radio this week that “all ministers are opposed to a Palestinian state, including Netanyahu.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday: “There is no alternative to the situation between the Palestinians and the Israelis other than the two-state settlement solution, and we should All that is possible to maintain it”.
The Trump-Netanyahu press conference, which was part of a nearly-all-day visit to the White House, was the public face of a new chapter in US-Israeli relations after the tumult and rancor of Netanyahu with Obama. But there were signs of potential problems for Trump and Netanyahu, despite their friendship and the fiercely pro-Israeli position of Trump.
Trump’s insistence that an agreement can be made, and his suggestion that he will act quickly to seek one, puts Netanyahu in the middle, between a powerful political group and his most important ally.
“If we work together, we have a shot,” he told Trump.
He did not publicly commit himself to controlling the settlements.
Trump was not more precise about the settlements, which became one of the main obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, but his administration had previously asked Israel not to expand the settlement blocs existing. Trump also said he considers the expanded settlements as useless as he attempts to usher in a peace effort.
Speaking to Israeli journalists later Wednesday, Netanyahu admitted that he and Trump do not see the issue of settlement. “We talked about the settlements, and we agreed to continue talking about this issue in order to reach an agreement,” Netanyahu said.
In recent weeks the Netanyahu government has announced the creation of some 5,500 additional homes in the existing Israeli settlements, as well as the creation of a new settlement to mitigate the blow to a community that the Israeli authorities were forced to Strike on February 2 After the Supreme Court ruled that it was illegally built on Palestinian private land.
Netanyahu said the housing units were moving forward as planned but prevented from saying if an entirely new settlement would be created.
“There is always the question of what to do in the future, but we should not guess what happened in the past,” he said.
At the press conference, Trump was questioned about his campaign promise to quickly move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump said he supports the idea, but considers “with great care.” The Arab allies urged Trump to slow down or cancel this commitment for fear of igniting the anti-Israel sentiment and reducing the influence of Arab governments on the Palestinians in a peace negotiation.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and his close associate, sat in the front line at the press conference. Trump said that Kushner will be his main envoy for a peace spurt. Trump’s choice for the US Ambassador to Israel, New York lawyer David Friedman, should be another protagonist of a US-sponsored peace campaign. Friedman is a public supporter of the West Bank settlements and suggested that the two-state option is no longer realistic.