Trump Drops Two-State Solution as Keystone of Mideast Peace

  • Israelis should ‘hold back on settlements,’ president says
  • Palestinians must ‘get rid of some of that hate,’ Trump says

Trump Says Separate States Not Needed in Mideast Deal

President Donald Trump said Wednesday he would be open to a Mideast peace agreement that doesn’t include separate states for Israel and the Palestinians, abandoning a U.S. position that has underpinned more than a decade of failed negotiations between the two sides.

“I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said of the path to peace during a joint news conference with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I can live with either one. I thought for a while that two states looked like the easier of the two. If Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I like the one they like the best.”

During his White House news conference preceding lunch and meetings with Netanyahu, Trump also promised to start negotiations on a peace agreement immediately. But his proposition that peace isn’t dependent upon creating two separate nations in the Holy Land departs from more than 10 years of American foreign policy and could provide political cover to the Israeli leader, who faces challenges from members of his governing coalition who oppose Palestinian statehood.

“What are we talking about?” Netanyahu said of a hypothetical Palestinian state, voicing the skepticism of opponents. “Are we talking about Costa Rica or are we talking about another Iran?”

Trump’s retreat from the two-state policy was celebrated by conservatives in Israel.

‘New Era’

“A new era,” Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home Party, which supports expanded Israeli settlement of the West Bank, wrote on his Facebook page. “After 24 years the flag of Palestine was taken down from the flagpole and replaced by the flag of Israel.”

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry called on Trump to preserve the U.S. position -- dating to the George W. Bush administration -- that a two-state solution is necessary for peace.

Read more: A QuickTake explainer on the rise and fall of the two-state idea

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Netanyahu “should respond to President Trump by stopping all settlement expansion, including in east Jerusalem,” according to an e-mail from his office in Ramallah.

“We are ready to work positively with the Trump administration to achieve peace,” Abbas said.  

Trump shouldn’t back away from forging an agreement, said Mkhaimar Abusada, a Palestinian political scientist at Al-Azhar University in the Gaza Strip.

American Bridge

“The Americans must be involved, they must be a bridge, they must be coming up with ideas to facilitate the negotiations,” he said. “If you leave the Palestinians and Israelis to negotiate on their own, forget about it. It’s not going to happen.”

While Trump and Netanyahu clearly enjoyed an amiable rapport, the president indicated that Israel wouldn’t get everything it wanted.

"Both sides would have to make compromises -- you know that, right?" he said to Netanyahu. Later, he asked the Israeli leader to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” on land the Palestinians believe should be part of their territory in any peace deal.

Israel has recently announced expansions of settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Netanyahu was noncommittal in response to Trump’s request.

“Let’s try,” he said.

“Doesn’t sound too optimistic, but that’s ...” Trump replied.

Dispense With Hate

“That’s the art of the deal,” Netanyahu said, to laughter.

The Palestinians, Trump said, "have to get rid of some of that hate" that they are "taught at a very young age." They must also acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, he said.

Netanyahu hinted at a broader Mideast peace deal, including Arab states hostile to Iran who “do not see Israel as an enemy, but increasingly as an ally.”

There is “an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen security and advance peace,” he said.

“Israel wants the Arab world to play a major role in pressuring the Palestinians to come around to a more accommodating position,” Amos Yadlin, the former chief of Israeli military intelligence, said in a phone interview.

Recalibration

Netanyahu is trying to recalibrate ties with Israel’s top ally after eight years of high-profile clashes with former President Barack Obama, in part over Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. He sees a chance for a warmer relationship with Trump, who shares his alarm over the Iran nuclear deal and Islamic extremists.

Netanyahu said that increasingly, U.S. and Israeli “values and interests are under attack by one malevolent force: radical Islamic terror.

“You’ve shown great clarity and courage in confronting this challenge head-on,” he told Trump.

Yadlin said Netanyahu "is trying to convince Trump of a new vision for peace. The prime minister will ask Trump for a more lenient view on settlements but he may not get exactly what he wants."

Trump said that he would begin work immediately on restarting negotiations rather than waiting until later in his presidency, as several of his predecessors did.

"Our administration is committed to working with Israel and our common allies in the region toward greater security and stability," Trump said. "That includes working on a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We’ll be working on it very, very diligently. Very important to me also."

— With assistance by Justin Sink, Margaret Talev, and Toluse Olorunnipa

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