Trump’s two-state support draws Palestinian skepticism, right-wing resistance

Trump’s two-state support draws Palestinian skepticism, right-wing resistance

Palestinian envoy says administration’s actions contradict professed policy; Bennett vows no state as long as Jewish Home in government

Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas speaks to the press after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris on September 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Ludovic Marin)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas speaks to the press after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris on September 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Ludovic Marin)

US President Donald Trump’s surprise backing for the two-state solution drew skepticism from Palestinian officials and opposition from the Israeli right on Wednesday, as well as support from left-wing groups that are more often seen criticizing the Trump administration.

The expelled Palestinian envoy to the US, Husam Zomlot, was unimpressed, telling AFP that the Trump administration’s “words go against their actions and their action is absolutely clear [and] is destroying the possibility of the two-state solution.”

He added that Trump’s comments alone were not enough to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah said “the path to peace” requires the two-state solution, including a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital, according to the official PA news site Wafa.

Abu Rudeinah also said the road to peace requires “the resolution of all final status issues in accordance with international resolutions,” likely a reference to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December.

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.”

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 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. “I can live with either one.”

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett hit back at Trump’s Wednesday statement.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett is seen at the ministry’s headquarters for the start of the school year in Tel Aviv on September 1, 2018. (Flash90)

“The president of the United States is a true friend of Israel. However, it must be emphasized that as long as the Jewish Home party is part of Israel’s government, there will not be a Palestinian state, which would be a disaster for Israel,” he said on Twitter.

Asked by reporters about Bennett’s tweet, Netanyahu said: “I promise that there won’t be a Palestinian state that will be a disaster for the State of Israel.”

A spokesman for Jewish Home party, asked if the party would remain in a government that was negotiating toward a two-state solution, made a noncommittal statement.

“We have never had a problem with negotiations and discussions,” the spokesman said. “Yet we will not allow the government to act in any way toward the establishment of a Palestinian state. A Palestinian state constitutes a moral danger and security threat to Israel, and to the stability of the whole region.”

On the Israeli left, which has been critical of the US president, Trump’s Wednesday comments were met with full-throated support.

Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni said in a statement, “I welcome Trump’s words, and the two things he said that are connected to Israel’s future — both the United States’ steadfast backing for Israel’s security, and its support for the solution of two nation-states. Both are vital for our future.”

The dovish advocacy group Peace Now said it hoped Trump’s affirmation of his preference for two states would encourage the Palestinians to stop “evading negotiations.”

“Earlier this month, we heard from [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas about the inconsistencies in the American attitude toward diplomatic moves in the region. We hope that President Trump’s remarks today, and his acceptance of the only realistic solution to the conflict, will put an end to the rumors [to the contrary] and to the evasion of negotiations,” the group said.

Asked by reporters Wednesday when his administration would present its long-awaited peace plan, Trump 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.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the United Nations General Assembly, September 26, 2018, at UN Headquarters. At right are Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“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, 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.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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