Abbas to Netanyahu: Heed Trump and freeze settlements
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Abbas to Netanyahu: Heed Trump and freeze settlements

As US president dials down support for two-state solution, Palestinian leader reaffirms commitment to longstanding formula

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference after meeting with Belgian Prime Minister in Brussels on February 9, 2017. (AFP/Emmanuel Dunand)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a press conference after meeting with Belgian Prime Minister in Brussels on February 9, 2017. (AFP/Emmanuel Dunand)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday said he would continue to work with the US administration to advance the two-state solution, while urging Israel to heed US President Donald Trump’s call to freeze settlement construction.

Trump bucked America’s longstanding commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Thursday, standing alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in the White House.

“I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he said, showing receptiveness to Netanyahu’s call for a regional initiative that relied on Israel’s improving relationships with Arab countries.

“The United States will encourage a peace, and really a great peace deal,” said Trump, and added that the matter was “important to me personally.”

At another point in the press conference, Trump also issued a gently worded warning to Netanyahu over his government’s continued West Bank settlement construction, turning to the Israeli premier and saying, “I’d like you to hold off on settlements for a little bit.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves following meetings with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves following meetings with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

In response, Abbas said Netanyahu must “respond to the request of US President Donald Trump and the international community to halt all settlement activities, including in occupied East Jerusalem,” according to a statement from his office.

The Palestinian leader reaffirmed his commitment to two states, “living in peace and security alongside the State of Israel on the June 1967 borders” while expressing “willingness to deal positively with… Trump to create peace.

“The insistence of the Israeli government to destroy the two-state option through the continuation of settlement building and imposing facts on the ground will lead to more extremism and instability,” he warned.

Abbas maintained that Netanyahu’s demand to retain security control over the Jordan Valley and insistence that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state are “a continuation of the attempt to impose facts on the ground and destroy the two-state option and replace it with the principle of one state with two systems, meaning apartheid.”

Wasel Abu Yousef, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, told The Times of Israel: “I think it is clear President Trump is trying to adopt the stance of Netanyahu, regarding the erasure of the existence of the two-state solution. This destroys the entire strategy of the former US administration.

“We as Palestinians believe there is no other solution that is practical or realistic,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said the only alternative to the creation of a Palestinian state is a one-state solution in which all Palestinians will get the right to vote.

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, February 15, 2017. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, February 15, 2017. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

“Contrary to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s plan of one state and two systems, apartheid, the only alternative to two sovereign and democratic states on the 1967 border is one single secular and democratic state with equal rights for everyone, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, on all of historic Palestine,” Erekat said during a meeting with the speaker of the UK House of Commons, John Bercow, in Ramallah.

Asked what compromises he had in mind for the two sides, Trump said the Israelis would “have to show some flexibility” and demonstrate their genuine commitment to an agreement. Meanwhile, Palestinians would have to address incitement.

“I think the Palestinians have to get rid of some of that hate they’re taught from a very young age,” Trump said. “They have to acknowledge Israel. They have to do that.”

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)
US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)

Speaking after Trump, Netanyahu repeated his long-held demands of the Palestinians, including recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and demilitarization, and accused Ramallah of paying lip service to negotiations.

“Not only have I not abandoned these prerequisites of peace, but they have gotten stronger,” he said, asserting the Jewish historical right to the West Bank while accusing the Palestinians of glorifying terrorism.

“We have to look at new ways” to reach peace, he said, and called for a “regional” approach that included Arab states. Netanyahu noted that he would discuss such an initiative with Trump.

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