Meeting Israel's Netanyahu, Trump backs away from commitment to Palestinian state

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) laughs with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference at the White House in Washington on Wednesday. Reuters photo

WASHINGTON —

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday dropped a U.S. commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a longstanding bedrock of Middle East policy, even as he urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to curb settlement construction.

In the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, the Republican president backed away from a U.S. embrace of the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, upending a position taken by successive administrations and the international community.

“I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both parties like,” Trump told a joint news conference with Netanyahu. “I can live with either one.”

Trump vowed to work toward a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians but said it would require compromise on both sides, leaving it up to the parties themselves ultimately to reach the terms of any agreement.

But he offered no new prescription for achieving an accord that has eluded so many of his predecessors, and Palestinian anger over his abandonment of their goal of statehood could scrap any chance of coaxing them back to the negotiating table.

Dropping a bombshell on Netanyahu as they faced reporters just before sitting down for talks, Trump told him: “I’d like to see you pull back on settlements for a little bit.”

The right-wing Israeli leader, who may have expected more decidedly pro-Israel rhetoric as the two sought to get past years of feuding with Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, appeared startled.

Netanyahu insisted that Jewish settlements were “not the core of the conflict” and made no commitment to reduce settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

Trump echoed Netanyahu’s calls for Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state - something they have refused to do - and to halt incitement against Israelis.

But even as Trump promised to pursue peace between the two sides - who have had no substantive peace talks since 2014 - he offered no new ideas for unblocking the peace process.

Setting an initially chummy tone, Trump greeted Netanyahu on a red carpet rolled out to the White House driveway. The two leaders smiled, shook hands and chatted amiably before heading inside the executive mansion, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump and Netanyahu’s wife Sara.

Among the questions that figured prominently on the agenda was the future of the two-state solution - the idea of creating a Palestine living peacefully alongside Israel.

Foreshadowing Trump’s policy shift, a senior White House official said on Tuesday that peace did not necessarily have to entail Palestinian statehood. Palestinians responded by warning Trump that such a move would seriously damage U.S. credibility.

Giving a vague, meandering response to a question on the issue, Trump suggested that he could abide by whatever path the two parties decided. “I’m happy with the one they like the best,” Trump said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday against abandoning the idea of a two-state solution,  saying there was “no alternative”.

Netanyahu committed, with conditions, to the two-state goal in a speech in 2009 and has broadly reiterated the aim since. But he has also spoken of a “state minus” option, suggesting he could offer the Palestinians deep-seated autonomy and the trappings of statehood without full sovereignty.

At the news conference, he never ruled out a two-state solution, but also made it sound as if it was an almost impossible ideal. He said there were preconditions for it to happen, including the Palestinians’ recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and Israel retaining security control “in the area west of the Jordan River” - which would encompass all of the West Bank.

Netanyahu and Trump shared several warm handshakes during the news conference, especially after Trump’s opening remarks, when he said the United States was Israel’s greatest friend.

But Trump also managed to catch Netanyahu off-guard, at one point saying that if a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict was going to be reached “both sides will have to make compromises”. The president then turned to Netanyahu and said:
“You know that, right?” Netanyahu looked momentarily startled and replied with a chuckle, “Both sides.”

The two leaders agreed that there was an opening for enlisting Israel’s Arab neighbors - who share its concerns about Iran - into any future peace process, though they offered no specifics on how that could be done. But a retreat from the principle of a two-state solution would cast doubt on the chances for cooperation from the broader Arab world.

Palestinians reacted with alarm to the possibility that Washington might ditch its support for an independent Palestinian nation.

“If the Trump administration rejects this policy it would be destroying the chances for peace and undermining American interests, standing and credibility abroad,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in response to the U.S. official’s remarks.

“Accommodating the most extreme and irresponsible elements in Israel and in the White House is no way to make responsible foreign policy,” she said in a statement.

Husam Zomlot, strategic adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians had not received any official indication of a change in the U.S. stance.

“It’s another nail in the coffin of the peace process, which already had a lot of nails in it,” said Martin Indyk, a former Middle East negotiator under Obama and now at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.

The one-state idea that Trump referred to would be deeply problematic for both sides. One concept would be two systems for two peoples, which many Palestinians would see as apartheid. Another version would mean equal rights for all, including for Palestinians in an annexed West Bank, but that would compromise Israel’s Jewish character.

For Netanyahu, the talks with Trump are an opportunity to reset ties after a frequently combative relationship with Obama.

The prime minister, under investigation at home over allegations of abuse of office, spent much of Tuesday huddled with advisers in Washington preparing for the talks. Officials said they wanted no gaps to emerge between U.S. and Israeli thinking during the scheduled two-hour Oval Office meeting.

Trump, who has been in office less than four weeks and whose foreign policy apparatus is in disarray following the forced resignation of his national security adviser Michael Flynn,  brings with him an unpredictability that Netanyahu’s staff hoped would not impinge on the discussions.

The two leaders, who seemed to strike up an emerging
“bromance” in social media exchanges since the election, sought to demonstrate good personal chemistry face-to-face as well, both sporting smiles and exchanging asides.

Meetings with Obama were at best cordial and businesslike, at worst tense and awkward. In one Oval Office encounter in 2011, Obama grimaced as Netanyahu lectured him in front of the cameras on the suffering of the Jewish people through the ages.

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2017.

  • 6

    njca4

    "I'm happy with the one they like the best"

    That's got to be the most ambiguous answer anyone has ever given on this issue. He knows that "they" are never going to like the same "one" doesn't he???

  • 7

    TumbleDry

    Netanyahu insisted that Jewish settlements were “not the core of the conflict” and made no commitment to reduce settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

    The whole occupation itself maybe?

    Leaving it to both parties to decide is kind of infeasible. On one side you have a hawkish government settlement construction happy and on the other side wanting to destroy the country that occupies them...

    Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem is going to help defuse the situation for sure (/sarcasm)

  • 7

    CrazyJoe

    Trump may not have meant to, but he just opened up the possibility of a one-sate solution. Israel and the West Bank are already effectively one state. The only problem is that Jews have more rights than the Palestinians who live there.

    A single non-sectarian state that does not privilege the rights of one ethnic or religious group over another and that respects the separation of state from all organized religion is the only real pathway to peace.

  • -19

    Burning Bush

    Cue the liberals telling us that the Israelis have a dossier on Trump.

  • 7

    PTownsend

    @brbush Cue the liberals telling us that the Israelis have a dossier on Trump.

    Why are Russians so concerned about liberals?

  • 7

    Fred Wallace

    "I'm happy with the one they like the best"

    The gears were in full spin there huh donny?

  • 10

    stormcrow

    Like watching a guy ordering different options off of a menu in a Chinese restaurant.

    Option one is good, but so is option two. Oh, you go ahead and decide. Whichever you choose is fine by me.

  • 8

    klausdorth

    "... he offered no new ideas for unblocking the peace process."

    Same ol', same ol'. He doesn't have any alternatives (except for HIS news). No solutions, no recommendations, no nothing.

    Just boycott and destroy everything that has been achieved so far by his predecessor.

  • 3

    Moonraker

    Ah, the only true "special relationship" is reaffirmed. Are you looking UK and Japan?

  • 4

    Jimizo

    "I'm happy with the one they like the best"

    Absolute genius. Why didn't anybody else think of that?

  • -15

    Burning Bush

    Why are Russians so concerned about liberals?

    Nothing in particular,

    However the American people duly elected Mr. Trump, and the President is trying to mend ties with Russia and Israel, but liberals keep harping on about all these nonsense cloak and dagger spy stuff.

    I'm tired of liberals claiming that Putin and Netenyahu have undue influence over Trump. There is no Russian nor Jewish conspiracy directing US foreign affairs.

  • 5

    PTownsend

    brbush liberals keep harping on about all these nonsense cloak and dagger spy stuff

    Thank you for sharing a Russian's perspective. I think Americans should be concerned about 'cloak and dagger spy stuff'. I know all foreign governments spy, but still think American citizens should be concerned about it, especially when Russians are involved.

    I'm tired of liberals claiming that Putin and Netenyahu have undue influence over Trump

    And I remain concerned that Putin and Netanyahu have 'undue influence over Trump'. If Trump truly wants to 'put America first', he needs to push both Putin and Metanyahu far away and look out for the interests of American people. I know Russia's hurting economically. I doubt many Americans want to bail out Russians. Let Russia's oligarchs fix Russia.

  • 9

    Strangerland

    I'm tired of liberals claiming that Putin and Netenyahu have undue influence over Trump. There is no Russian nor Jewish conspiracy directing US foreign affairs.

    How do you know? Have you seen his tax returns? Please let us know what's in them since none of the rest of us have.

  • -15

    bass4funk

    However the American people duly elected Mr. Trump, and the President is trying to mend ties with Russia and Israel, but liberals keep harping on about all these nonsense cloak and dagger spy stuff.

    I'm tired of liberals claiming that Putin and Netenyahu have undue influence over Trump. There is no Russian nor Jewish conspiracy directing US foreign affairs.

    Couldn't have summed that up better. Spot on.

  • 8

    PTownsend

    @BASS Couldn't have summed that up better. Spot on.

    Once again rightists and Russians thinking alike.

  • 8

    Jimizo

    "How do you know? Have you seen his tax returns? Please let us know what's in them since none of the rest of us have."

    Remember the pressure on Obama to release his birth certificate from certain people? Wasn't a certain Donald Trump involved in that?

    He could help clear this up in the name of the transparency he wanted. I'm just surprised all people wouldn't like this cleared up.

  • 3

    Scrote

    If the Israelis want the land they also have to take the people that live there. That means granting full, irrevocable Israeli citizenship to all Palestinians in the occupied territories. If Israel is not prepared to do that they should return all of the land they have occupied and remove all of their troops from it.

  • 4

    goldorak

    “I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both parties like,” Trump told a joint news conference with Netanyahu. “I can live with either one.”

    What an ignorant/simplistic thing to say. One or 2 isn't the only (at least not the main one) issue here. The n1 problem is the denial of Palestinian rights by Israel, whether they are in or outside is anecdotal. Would Israeli be willing to give the exact same rights, pay, opportunities etc to "Israeli of Palestinian origin" in a one-state solution? Doubt it.

  • 1

    Aly Rustom

    Trump may not have meant to, but he just opened up the possibility of a one-sate solution. Israel and the West Bank are already effectively one state. The only problem is that Jews have more rights than the Palestinians who live there. A single non-sectarian state that does not privilege the rights of one ethnic or religious group over another and that respects the separation of state from all organized religion is the only real pathway to peace

    CrazyJoe- BEST post I've read here, although I agree with MOST of the posters here too..

  • 6

    MrBum

    I'm kind of meh on this. Sure Trump's comments are rough and unthoughtful as ever, but he showed a surprising amount of balance on the issue. I don't think he was really backing away from the two state solution either, just demonstrating his ignorance of deeper issues and inability to speak like an adult.

    However the American people duly elected Mr. Trump, and the President is trying to mend ties with Russia and Israel, but liberals keep harping on about all these nonsense cloak and dagger spy stuff. I'm tired of liberals claiming that Putin and Netenyahu have undue influence over Trump.

    I'm tired of Trump supporters denying it. I doubt Israel has any more influence on Trump than on previous presidents, and I'm all for mending ties with Russia under certain conditions, but there's plenty of circumstantial evidence that supports something shady is going on between the Trump administration and Putin. Do you think it's a coincidence that only Hillary's dirt was leaked during the election?

    It's unbelievable that you guys saw conspiracies in Obama's birthplace, Benghazi, Clinton's emails, etc. but you see nothing wrong with Trump's suspicious relationship with Russia. And where's the demand for Trump's tax returns?

  • 3

    backscratcher

    Trump backs away from commitment to Palestinian state

    I have been pretty outspoken about Trump and his rantings. However, this headline and similar ones heard and seen in the reports I've seen in Japan are misleading. I did not back away from a commitment specifically to the Palestinians. He certainly was vague. But, maybe that is not so bad when you consider what else he said with Netanyahu standing right there:

    But Trump also managed to catch Netanyahu off-guard, at one point saying that if a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict was going to be reached “both sides will have to make compromises”. The president then turned to Netanyahu and said: “You know that, right?” Netanyahu looked momentarily startled and replied with a chuckle, “Both sides.”

    Dropping a bombshell on Netanyahu as they faced reporters just before sitting down for talks, Trump told him: “I’d like to see you pull back on settlements for a little bit.”

    Netanyahu was obviously less than pleased and Trump even said something to that effect such as, 'He doesn't look too happy about that though, does he?'

    This is a major step in my opinion. He basically dressed down Netanyahu in front of everyone. I will probably be wrong about this, but it would be nice even if it is the only thing he accomplishes if Trump does get the two sides together and somehow works out a two-state peace solution that manages to satisfy both sides. I am not holding my breath though.

  • 4

    Strangerland

    He could help clear this up in the name of the transparency he wanted. I'm just surprised all people wouldn't like this cleared up.

    It's not that surprising. It's team politics. They demanded Obama's birth certificate because he was on the other team. They give Trump a pass because he's on their team. It's never been about the truth, it's about discrediting the other team, and making things as easy as they can for their team.

  • 4

    SenseNotSoCommon

    “I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both parties like,” Trump told a joint news conference with Netanyahu. “I can live with either one.”

    Oh, look: another hornet's nest to kick, and a big one too!

    Cue the liberals telling us that the Israelis have a dossier on Trump.

    Cue the Russians worried that Trump's bankruptcy-lawyer-turned-ambassador-to-Israel has an even juicier dossier than them.

  • 4

    backscratcher

    Oh, look: another hornet's nest to kick, and a big one too!

    Yes, but you have to admit, Trump gave Netanyahu a couple of swift kicks right in front of everyone. That surprised me. I don't think I've seen anything like that before.

    As I said before, I don't hold out much hope that the Palestinians and Israelis will see peace any time soon. But it was nice seeing Netanyahu made to be very uncomfortable when he least expected it and when he really couldn't say anything negative about it.

  • 3

    chugmagaga

    I don't know, I cannot even read a news article that discuss Israel. It is full of bias and strange logic that I could never comprehend. They keep stealing the land and the world keeps allowing them one way or the other. Simply opposing settlements in UN is just not enough.

  • 6

    SuperLib

    Sounds like it was a mess of a press conference.

    Peace in the Middle East takes US leadership, not "whatever you guys want to work out." It takes coordination from a lot of countries and lot and lots of money. Trump sounds like most of his answers amounted to shrugs.

  • 5

    PTownsend

    Trump sounds like most of his answers amounted to shrugs.

    Could it be the shrugs were Putin pulling his puppet strings?

  • 5

    smithinjapan

    Trump backing away from promises? NEVER! haha. I wonder what Netanyahu's thoughts were on Bannon and Trump not mentioning the Jews in his Holocaust speech. Netanyahu is as much of a sellout as Trump, so probably avoided mentioning it in favor of more carte blanche handouts from the US.

  • 0

    nakanoguy01

    i have to totally agree with MrBurn on this. i am the furthest thing from a trump supporter, but perhaps his willful ignorance might actually help in this case. by saying that both options, one state or two state, were acceptable, he put the onus on both sides to come to an agreement. and by knocking bibi about there needs to be compromise on both sides, he hit the nail on the head. that being said, trump is a total disaster in all other areas.

  • -6

    Burning Bush

    Could it be the shrugs were Putin pulling his puppet strings?

    Could it be that all these Russian/Jewish conspiracy theories are mental fabrications of distraught liberals who can't get over a lost election?

  • -3

    pointofview

    He should just focus on domestic politics for now.

  • 3

    PTownsend

    @brbush Could it be that all these Russian/Jewish conspiracy theories are mental fabrications of distraught liberals who can't get over a lost election?

    Have you been asked to change what you say? I ask because in earlier posts you wrote Putin was Trump's boss. Is Nashi giving you, pointofview etal a different script to follow? Or were you just making joke then. LOL

  • 3

    theeastisred

    He basically dressed down Netanyahu in front of everyone

    and

    Trump gave Netanyahu a couple of swift kicks right in front of everyone

    If only he had done it on purpose, having studied and thought through the issues. But no, he just blundered in, like with Taiwan/China, cancelled Mexico wall meeting, Australian PM phonecall. The man has no clue what he is doing. It just depends what's on his tiny mind that particular moment.

  • 1

    Reckless

    "But Trump also managed to catch Netanyahu off-guard, at one point saying that if a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict was going to be reached “both sides will have to make compromises”. The president then turned to Netanyahu and said: “You know that, right?” Netanyahu looked momentarily startled and replied with a chuckle, “Both sides.” "

    This is pretty cool.

  • 0

    Thunderbird2

    I was watching that press conference and what struck me was that Natanyahu wants his cake and to eat it all. He wants Palestinians to recognise Israel... fair enough, but he wants a Palestinian state to be under the control of Israel security... I don't get that. That's not creating a Palestinian state... that's doing a Hong Kong.

  • 0

    lostrune2

    Netanyahu got quite uncomfortable when Trump told him:

    Trump: "As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. We’ll work something out. But I would like to see a deal be made.... [Netanyahu] doesn't sound too optimistic, but -- (laughter) -- he’s a good negotiator."

    Netanyahu: "That's the art of the deal. [nervous laugh]

  • 0

    Burning Bush

    Trump's foreign policy is relative simple, yet effective.

    Solidify positive relations with two countries, Russia and Israel, and basically ignore everyone else.

    Why, because the Russians and Israelis control Trump?... No.

    Because Trump knows that those are the only two countries that matter in the fight against terror.

    Trump is building a Russia-US-Israel alliance, and it's going to work.

  • 2

    PTownsend

    Because Trump knows that those are the only two countries that matter in the fight against terror.

    All rightists and Russians have is a negative agenda, things to fight against, which they know is the best way to attract unthinking followers. Find enemies and keep fear alive; an age old tactic used by demagogues.

    Where's the positive agenda? The little guy in both countries gets trickled down on?

    Trump's whole life has been spent chasing money and power. It's in his DNA. Leopards and spots; he's not going to change. Trump's surrounding himself with big energy people. Russia's a big energy country. Russia doesn't have the technology nor the capital and needs the help of the US to get resources out and market them to maximize profits for its oligarchs and America's.

    And if the two oligarchies combine forces, will Russia join the US in Afghanistan, a place with huge amounts of untapped resources? To continue the fight against terrorists, of course. And it would be a chance to get revenge after its defeat there.

    Where else? Nigeria? Venezuela? There are so many potential terrorists to be fought, but I think the more countries invaded, the more terrorists created.

    Perpetual war! Full employment for the war industries! Is that what rightists and Russians really want?

  • 1

    lostrune2

    Why, because the Russians and Israelis control Trump?... No.

    Because Trump knows that those are the only two countries that matter in the fight against terror.

    Notice that you're not mentioning Iran/Hezbollah anymore in that terror fight

    Because Trump is gonna destroy Iran/Hezbollah/Israel's enemies

    And Israel is not expecting much fight with the Saudis, Bahrain, UAE, and Gulf States - because something is actually uniting them together. Yes, Iran

    So Iran is pushing Israel and the Sunni states together, lol

  • -1

    bass4funk

    Trump backing away from promises? NEVER! haha. I wonder what Netanyahu's thoughts were on Bannon and Trump not mentioning the Jews in his Holocaust speech.

    How do you know Bannon said this?

    Netanyahu is as much of a sellout as Trump, so probably avoided mentioning it in favor of more carte blanche handouts from the US.

    How is Bibi a sellout? I'm just happy we can have normalized relations with Israel once again, great moment. Kudos to Trump!

  • -2

    elephant200

    I dont think this is an appropiate way to treat a friend who place high hopes over you. Mr President

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