State Department: Endorsing two-state solution would make us biased
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State Department: Endorsing two-state solution would make us biased

Comments come as US delegation arrives in region to jump start talks amid Palestinian grumblings about lack of clarity

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017.  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON — Committing to the two-state solution would bias Washington in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, a US official said Wednesday, as a high-level delegation arrived in the region to try and jump start talks amid Palestinian protests over a lack of clarity from the White House.

“We are not going to state what the outcome has to be,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “It has to be workable to both sides. That’s the best view as to not really bias one side over the other, to make sure that they can work through it.”

Her comments came as Palestinians have increasingly complained over the White House’s refusal to endorse the two-state solution, breaking with longstanding US policy and an international consensus.

On Sunday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told a group of dovish Israeli lawmakers that he had met with Trump officials 20 times, but had no idea what their stance on issues was, describing the administration as “in chaos.”

Other officials have expressed dismay as well and accused the US of being biased toward Israel, even as a delegation led by Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner arrives in the region to try and find a way forward.

On Tuesday, Ahmad Majdalani, a top aide to Abbas, said the Palestinians asked Kushner for the US position on two key issues — Israeli settlements and support for Palestinian independence — during his last visit to the region in June.

“Since then we didn’t hear from them,” he said.

US presidential adviser Jared Kushner meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on June 21, 2017 (PA press office)
US presidential adviser Jared Kushner meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on June 21, 2017 (PA press office)

“We hope they bring clear answers this time,” he added. “If not, then the peace process cannot be resumed because we cannot negotiate from scratch.”

Nauert’s comments appeared to reflect recognition of a lack of support for the two state solution in Israel’s right-wing government.

While most members of the current Israeli government are not on record supporting two states, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has at least rhetorically held that stance since 2009, although he has wavered on it in recent years.

Abbas supports a two-state outcome, which he articulated in remarks alongside President Trump during their last joint appearance in Bethlehem in May.

Trump, however, broke with his predecessors last February when Netanyahu visited Washington. Standing alongside the Israeli premier, Trump said, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”

US President Donald Trump, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House on February 15, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)
US President Donald Trump, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House on February 15, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

On Wednesday, Nauert suggested that the United States inserting its view into the negotiations would not yield to an agreement. Rather, only Israelis and Palestinians can find a lasting resolution.

“It’s been many, many decades, as you well know, that the parties have not been able to come to any kind of good agreement and sustainable solution to this,” she said. “So we leave it up to them to be able to work that through.”

Her remarks came as Kushner, Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt, and Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell arrived in Israel to meet separately with Netanyahu and Abbas.

The delegation arrived in Israel after several meetings with other leaders around the Middle East on the topic, including in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

On Tuesday, King Abdullah II of Jordan told the Kushner-led team that the two-state solution is the only way to solve the conflict.

A US diplomatic source told reporters Wednesday night in Jerusalem that the president wants discussions “to focus on the transition to substantive … peace talks, the situation in Gaza, including how to ease the humanitarian crisis there, and the economic steps that can be taken.”

That being said, Trump acknowledges “there are likely to be a lot of ups and downs on the way to peace and making a peace deal will take time,” but that he “remains optimistic that progress toward a deal can be achieved,” the source added.

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