WASHINGTON — Hours before President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were set to meet for the first time since the president took office, the White House announced Tuesday that Washington will seek to broker a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, but that a two-state solution may not necessarily be the framework to bring that peace to fruition and that the president will not insist on it.
A senior White House official said Tuesday that the United States would no longer seek to dictate the terms of any eventual peace settlement, but would support what the two sides agree to together.
“A two-state solution that doesn’t bring peace is not our goal that anybody wants to achieve,” the official said in a briefing with reporters Tuesday night. “Peace is the goal. Whether it comes in the form of a two-state solution, if that’s what the parties want, or something else, if that’s what the parties want, we’re going to help them.”
“We’re not going to dictate what the terms of peace will be,” that official added. “President Trump has very much indicated that he wants to achieve peace,” he went on, noting also that an accord was a “very high priority for the administration.”
For his part, Netanyahu will reportedly tell Trump during their meeting that the establishment of a Palestinian state is a waste of time, Israel’s Channel 2 reported earlier Tuesday.
Netanyahu is said to have told his advisers behind closed doors that he would tell Trump that there’s no point in establishing Palestinian state in the current climate, Channel 2’s Udi Segal reported.
The past three US presidents have all publicly embraced a two-state solution as the means to achieving the coveted Middle East peace. Any deviation from that posture would mark a dramatic shift in American foreign policy.
During the campaign and subsequent transition, Trump repeatedly suggested he would upend such traditions, including by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and signaling a more favorable approach to Israeli settlement activity, though since assuming office last month, he appeared to have changed tack.
During an interview last week with the Sheldon Adelson-owned Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, Trump was noncommittal on any plans to relocate the embassy and, for the first time, expressed direct criticism of the settlement enterprise and its implications for future peace negotiations.
“Every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left,” Trump said. “But we are looking at that, and we are looking at some other options we’ll see. But no, I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”
The official who spoke with the White House press pool Tuesday, however, suggested a full shift to vocally urging a two-state outcome may not be in the cards so soon.
The term “two-state solution,” he said, was not well defined or adequately delineated. “If I ask five people what a two-state solution is, I get eight answers,” he said.
For Wednesday’s highly-anticipated meeting, the topics of discussion between Netanyahu and Trump will include the possible embassy move to Jerusalem, settlement expansion and deterring Iranian aggression and preventing it from going nuclear — the issue of utmost concern to the Israeli leader.
They will also discuss a United Nations Security Council resolution passed last December that branded Israeli settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace. It also called for a complete halt to all construction in areas Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War.
The motion passed 14-0 after the Obama administration opted to withhold its veto power.
“The posture that the US takes at the UN under this administration would be to veto anything that is biased against Israel,” the official said of the current administration. “So we view the vote that took place as biased against Israel … We’ll have to see what the potential impact is to Israel and so I’m not sure what can be done yet.”
Netanyahu and Trump are set to hold a joint press conference on Wednesday, followed by a private meeting and then a bilateral meeting.
The prime minister will then head to Capitol Hill for meetings with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Netanyahu met with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday, where in their two-hour meeting, “all regional issues were discussed, including Iran,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Netanyahu invited Tillerson to visit Israel, and “also to establish direct connections between the secretary of state and the PMO,” the statement said.
Agencies contributed to this report.