WASHINGTON — Hours after US President Donald Trump declared his unequivocal support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday, he backtracked during a frenzied news conference on the sidelines of UN General Assembly, saying that the actual solution was less important to him, so long as there was a peace deal in the end.
“Bottom line: If the Israelis and Palestinians want one state, that’s okay with me,” he said. “If they want two states, that’s okay with me. I’m happy, if they’re happy.”
“I’m a facilitator. I want to see if I can get a deal done so that people don’t get killed anymore,” the US president said.
Trump said that reaching a two-state solution is “more difficult because it’s a real estate deal” but that ultimately it “works better because you have people governing themselves.”
He also promised that the long-awaited peace plan that was being crafted by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who has been working on the Middle East portfolio, would be “very fair.”
“He loves Israel but he’s also going to be very fair with the Palestinians,” Trump said during the 84-minute long press conference.
He said the plan could be released soon, even though the Palestinians are currently boycotting the Americans over Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, moving the US embassy there, and the administration’s cuts to aid to Ramallah.
“I would say over the next two to three to four months,” Trump said, referring to his prospective timetable for presenting a peace plan.
He went on, “I think probably two-state is more likely, but you know what? I think if they do a single, if they do a double, I’m okay with it, if they’re both happy.”
Hours earlier, the US president embraced, for the first time, the outcome long sought by his predecessors.
Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all sought to broker a two-state solution. But Trump, who has called a Middle East peace deal one of his biggest priorities, had long resisted specifically endorsing that framework.
“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he had said at a press conference in February 2017. “I can live with either one.”
But on Wednesday, he took an unequivocal stance, telling reporters at a briefing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “I like the two-state solution. That’s what I think works best. I don’t even have to speak to anybody, that’s my feeling.” He then motioned to Netanyahu and said: “You may have a different feeling. I don’t think so, but that’s mine.” Netanyahu did not respond.
The two spoke to the media at the UN in Manhattan. Trump addressed the General Assembly on Monday, Netanyahu is slated to speak on Thursday.
At his later press conference on Wednesday. Trump referred, when asked about his decision to formally back the establishment of a Palestinian state, to his first trip abroad as president, when he traveled to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican.
In Riyadh, Trump hosted a summit with the leaders of 55 other Muslim-majority nations.
He said on Wednesday that a number of them approached him informally to convey the importance of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal for regional stability.
“We had one of the great conferences in history,” Trump said. “We had, I believe, 58 Muslim countries: the leaders, the kings, the emirs, the absolute leaders. There was nobody in second place. They were the leaders of the whole thing.
“Unbeknownst to anybody else, people would come up to me individually, it wasn’t a set up, they’d come up to me and say, ‘Sir, you can’t have peace in the Middle East without peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.’ I said, ‘Why? What difference? Why does that matter so much?’ They said, ‘It just is impossible.'”
The only leader he mentioned by name was King Salman of Saudi Arabia. “I must have had 12 leaders say it, and they just said it,” Trump told reporters. “And I started to realize that peace between Israel and the Palestinians for the Middle East is a very important thing, and we’re trying very hard to get it.”
After Trump’s endorsement of the two-state solution, Netanyahu said that the United States accepts that even if a two-state solution is achieved to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel will retain overall security control of the West Bank.
Briefing Israeli reporters after the meeting with Trump, Netanyahu said that under any peace accord, Israel would retain security control from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
“I am sure that any US peace plan will reflect that principle to a great extent, maybe even entirely,” Netanyahu said.
“Some things are not acceptable to us,” he added. “Make no mistake: Israel will not give up on security control west of the Jordan as long as I am prime minister. I think the Americans accept that principle.”