WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Friday declined to clearly throw its support behind a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying only that “the president is committed to peace.”
The two state solution — to which Israel is also officially committed — is viewed as the only real path to ending the conflict by much of the international community and the last three successive US presidents.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked to follow-up on a statement he made Thursday on Washington’s position that new settlements in the West Bank or expanding existing settlements beyond their current borders “may not be helpful” to achieving peace.
Asked specifically to clarify if the two-state framework is part of President Donald Trump’s objective, Spicer told reporters Friday: “The president is committed to peace.” He added: “That’s his goal. I think when the president and Prime Minister Netanyahu meet here … that will obviously be the topic.”
The two leaders will meet on February 15, when the Israeli premier comes to Washington.
Spicer on Friday also went slightly beyond the White House’s Thursday language on settlements, saying that changing any of the realities on the ground “is not going to be helpful moving forward.”
“At the end of the day, the goal is peace,” he added. “And I think that’s what you have to keep in mind.”
Spicer’s comments came a day after the administration took its first position on the settlement issue, releasing a statement that cautioned Israel against expanding its presence in the West Bank.
The missive was a response to Israel approving several thousand housing units over the Green Line after Trump assumed power, as well as announcing it will build an entirely new settlement for the first time in a quarter-century.
Some right-wing Israeli leaders have said the election of the Trump administration marks an opportunity to move beyond the two-state solution and work toward annexing large parts of the West Bank.
The White House statement on Thursday said: “While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful.”
Later Thursday, the State Department said new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson phoned Netanyahu. It was not immediately clear what the two discussed.
While Israel stopped establishing settlements in the early 1990s, outposts set up since then have been retroactively given approval, and existing settlements have expanded their footprints, sometimes being neighborhoods of existing settlements in name only.