Trump to Netanyahu: ‘I like’ two-state solution, want peace in ‘my first term’
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Trump to Netanyahu: ‘I like’ two-state solution, want peace in ‘my first term’

At UN meet, US president insists Palestinians will ‘absolutely’ return to negotiating table, peace plan to be presented in 2-4 months

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

NEW YORK — US President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he favors the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, indicated it will be at the heart of his administration’s peace plan, and insisted the Palestinians were eager to come to the negotiating table.

“I like the two-state solution,” Trump told reporters at a press gaggle with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. “That’s what I think works best. I don’t even have to speak to anybody, that’s my feeling.”

He pointed to Netanyahu, seated next to him, and added, “You may have a different feeling. I don’t think so, but that’s mine.” Netanyahu did not respond.

The comments appeared to mark a shift in favor of the two-state option for the US president, who in February 2017, at his first bilateral meeting with Netanyahu at the White House, sounded more skeptical about establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” the US president said at a press conference at the time, standing alongside Netanyahu. “I can live with either one.”

US President Donald Trump (R) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on September 26, 2018 in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. (AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)

Recent reports have also indicated that the White House has been looking at a possible confederation between the West Bank and Jordan, and possibly Israel.

Asked by reporters Wednesday when his administration would present its long-awaited peace plan, he said he expected it to be unveiled within two to four months.

“I want a plan that’s solid, understood by both sides, really semi-agreed by both sides before we present. I would say two-three-four months,” Trump said.

“I think a lot of progress has been made. I think Israel wants to do something. I think Palestinians want to do something. It will start moving pretty soon, pretty rapidly,” he said.

Trump characterized a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians as “a dream of mine,” saying he hopes “to be able to get that done prior to the end of my first term. We’ll do other things in my second term.”

He also insisted repeatedly that the Palestinians, who have boycotted his administration since he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December, will return to the negotiating table.

Washington responded to the Palestinian boycott in recent months by steadily slashing hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid to the Palestinians and to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

“We were paying them $500 million a year. Now we pay nothing a year. For years we were abused by the Palestinian leadership,” he charged. “That’s stopped. [The money] will come back. They will be coming back to the table, and they want to.”

Asked point-blank if he believed the Palestinians would join talks with Israel, he said, “Absolutely. One hundred percent.”

In the question-and-answer period after the two leaders’ initial comments, Trump was asked if he plans to intercede on Israel’s behalf in the crisis with Russia following the downing of a Russian spy plane by Syrian air defense forces responding to an Israeli air strike last week. Trump said he would, but offered no details.

“I will talk [to Russian President Vladimir Putin] if it’s appropriate, when it’s appropriate. Yes, I will do,” he said.

Trump and Netanyahu met one-on-one behind closed doors after the press availability, less than an hour before a Security Council meeting on nuclear proliferation chaired by Trump that was expected to deal primarily with Iran.

Netanyahu later tweeted, “An excellent meeting with US President Donald Trump. Thank you for your tremendous support of Israel!”

The two leaders last met on March 5 in Washington, and have spoken several times on the phone since. That meeting at the White House was the two leaders’ fifth bilateral summit since the US president took office in January 2017.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the UN in New York on September 26, 2018 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Prior to his talks with Trump, Netanyahu met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

On Tuesday, during an unabashedly “America First” speech at the UN General Assembly, Trump said Iranian leaders “sow chaos, death and destruction” and “spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond.” His national security adviser, John Bolton, warned that there would be “hell to pay” if Tehran crossed the US, its allies or their partners.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded by accusing the Trump administration of violating the rules of international law and “state obligations” by withdrawing from the nuclear deal that Iran signed with the US and five other major powers in 2015.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 25, 2018 (screenshot: YouTube)

Netanyahu is scheduled to deliver a speech to the General Assembly on Thursday early afternoon, only minutes after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

After sitting with Trump Wednesday, Netanyahu was scheduled to hold separate bilateral meetings with Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales, Polish President Andrzej Duda, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The meeting with Macron will come days after France and other European countries agreed to create a mechanism with Iran to evade US sanctions set to be imposed in the wake of Trump’s pullout from the 2015 nuclear deal. Netanyahu had been among the pact’s most vociferous critics.

Netanyahu will reportedly also meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi late Wednesday night, though the Prime Minister’s Office has not confirmed the meeting.

Last year the two leaders held their first-ever public sitdown on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

On Thursday, Netanyahu will meet with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Rwandan President Paul Kagame after delivering his address to the General Assembly.

His speech, for which three Israeli cabinet ministers — Miri Regev, Ayoub Kara and Tzachi Hanegbi — will be present, is scheduled for 1 p.m. (8 p.m. Israel) but the time is not final and could go as late as 2:30 p.m., his office said.

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