Trump rolls back US obligation to two states, tells Netanyahu to ‘hold back on settlements’
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'I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like'

Trump rolls back US obligation to two states, tells Netanyahu to ‘hold back on settlements’

At White House press conference, US president expresses enthusiasm for regional initiative involving Arab states, vows to pursue 'a great peace deal'

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, hold a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)
US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, hold a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP/Mandel Ngan)

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

“I’m looking at two-state 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.”

While Netanyahu did not explicitly renounce his own commitment to a two-state solution, arguing that his position “hasn’t changed” since his seminal 2009 speech on the matter, he also avoided explicitly mentioning Palestinian statehood.

During the press conference, which was rife with mutual praise, Trump also vowed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, calling the 2015 deal between the Iranian regime and world powers one of the “worst” he’d ever seen.

“My administration has already imposed new sanctions on Iran, and I will do more to prevent Iran from ever developing — I mean ever — a nuclear weapon” he said, after greeting “my friend” Netanyahu and lauding the “unbreakable bond with our cherished ally.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a point during a joint press conference with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC February 15, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a point during a joint press conference with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC February 15, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)

Israel and the US, he said, enjoyed a partnership based on shared values and a commitment to advancing “the cause of human dignity.”

“American and Israel are two countries that cherish the value of all human life,” he said, noting that that was one of the reasons why he rejected the “very very unfair” treatment of Israel at the UN, as well as efforts to boycott the Jewish state.

“I want the Israeli people to know that the United States stands with Israel in the struggle against terrorism,” Trump said.

Addressing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, he said the US would “encourage, really, a great peace deal…. but it is the parties themselves that must directly negotiate.

“Both sides will have to make compromises. You know that, right?” he said, turning to Netanyahu. “We’ll talk,” the prime minister replied.

Sara Netanyahu and Melania Trump walk outside the White House on February 15, 2017 (Shmulik Armani)
Sara Netanyahu and Melania Trump walk outside the White House on February 15, 2017 (Shmulik Armani)

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

The prime minister argued that settlements were not at the core of the conflict, and said that Israel and the US would try to coordinate their positions “so that we don’t bump into each other on this every time.”

Asked what compromises he had in mind for the two parties, 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,” he said. “They have to acknowledge Israel. They have to do that.”

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.

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump attend the White House press conference of US President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu on February 15, 2017 (screen capture: YouTube)
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump attend the White House press conference of US President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu on February 15, 2017 (screen capture: YouTube)

“Let us seize this moment together,” he said, to pursue, “new avenues” for peace.

In response, Trump said the two have been discussing a regional deal, and noted it “would take in many many countries.”

“I didn’t know you were going to be mentioning it, but now that you did, it’s a terrific thing,” he said. The two men’s comments came amid renewed speculation that Sunni Arab states would be prepared to work with Israel in the face of regional opposition to Iran.

Earlier in the press conference, Netanyahu described the relationship between Jerusalem and Washington in glowing terms.

“Israel has no better ally than the United States, and the United States has no better ally than Israel. Our alliance has been remarkably strong,” he said, adding that he was convinced that under Trump the relationship would get “even stronger.”

Netanyahu also vaunted Trump’s “clarity” on the danger of Islamic terrorism. “Israel stands with you and I stand with you” in the fight against “militant Islam,” he said.

Trump, who promised during the US presidential campaign to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, said he would “love to see that happen.”

“We’re looking at it very, very strongly,” he said. “We’re looking at it with great care. Believe me. We’ll see what happens. Okay?”

Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it in the 1967 Six Day War, declared the city its united capital in 1980. But no US president has recognized it as such, despite a law passed by Congress in 1995 requiring that the embassy be moved to Jerusalem.

The Embassy of the United States of America, in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Flash90)
The Embassy of the United States of America, in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Flash90)

At one point, an Israeli reporter asked Trump about rising anti-Semitism in the US in the wake of his election, and the support the president enjoyed among “xenophobic” elements in the US.

“We are very honored by the victory we had — 306 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220,” Trump responded. “There’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.”

He then promised that his administration would do everything in its power “to stop long-simmering racism,” though he didn’t explicitly mention anti-Semitism and asserted the US was divided long before he came along.

Trump also mentioned the fact that his daughter Ivanka is Jewish.

“You will see a very different America,” he promised. “You’re going to see a lot of love.”

Netanyahu also addressed the question about anti-Semitism, maintaining that “there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state” than Trump.

Elie Leshem, Joshua Davidovich, Marissa Newman and AFP contributed to this report.

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