NEW YORK - Donald Trump backed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the first time as president on Wednesday, announcing his position at the beginning of a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York.
"I think that's what works best," Trump told the prime minister, reiterating his support several times.
The president up until now had equivocated on the two states, which has long been Washington's preferred solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the beginning of his administration, Trump said he was open to an alternative solution. And his Middle East peace team, which was present at the announcement, has yet to use the term in public or in private to describe the framework of their plan.
That plan, Trump said, should be ready in two to four months.
"I really believe something will happen. It is a dream of mine to be able to get that done prior to the end of my first term," Trump said, adding: "I like a two-state solution."
Briefing reporters after the meeting, Netanyahu said he was not surprised by Trump's statement regarding two states and that he told the president in private that his priority is to maintain Israel's control over the security environment.
"I told the president that what is important is that the Palestinians won't be able to threaten us, and for that reason there must be complete Israeli security control," Netanyahu said.
A future Palestinian state should be more "like Costa Rica than Iran," the prime minister continued, also claiming that Jared Kushner, the president's senior adviser and son-in-law leading the peace process, acknowledged in their meeting that people interpret the concept of Palestinian statehood differently.
A White House official later told The Jerusalem Post
that the administration would, for the time being, decline to elaborate on the president's remark. But senior officials were privately questioning the wisdom of using the term "two-state solution" as recently as this week, ahead of the General Assembly meetings.
Under Trump, the State Department has scrubbed all references to an Israeli occupation of the West Bank, of US aspirations for a two-state solution or of the existence of "Palestinian territories."
In Trump's opening remarks before his meeting with Netanyahu, he also defended Israel's right to respond militarily to threats to its borders on all sides. Netanyahu said that their discussion included a robust discussion of Russia's role in controlling Syrian airspace and its potentially imminent deployment of sophisticated air defenses there.
Netanyahu said he would soon meet once again with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the growing crisis, precipitated by the downing of a Russian plane that Moscow claims fell victim to an Israeli Air Force maneuver. He also said that Trump directed his staff to aid in Israel's deconfliction efforts.
"I received everything that I asked for regarding the recent events vis-a-vis Russia," Netanyahu said. "The president immediately gave detailed directions to his advisors. I am very pleased with the meeting, and received his unmitigated support for Israel."
Moscow has warned it will send its S-300 anti-aircraft system to Syria within two weeks– a move that Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, has warned would mark a dramatic escalation of the war there.
Israel is "aggressive, and they have no choice but to be aggressive," Trump told reporters. "It's a very difficult part of the world."
The meeting focused primarily on threats posed by Iran, the primary target of the president's speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday. A White House readout said that the two leaders discussed "their continued close coordination on countering the malign influence of Iran," and that Trump "also emphasized his commitment to achieving a lasting peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.
Trump was joined in his meeting with Netanyahu by Kushner and Bolton, as well as his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo; White House chief of staff John Kelly; and Jason Greenblatt, his special representative for international negotiations.
"We are with you," Trump added. "We are with Israel one hundred percent."
Netanyahu once again praised Trump for moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
"You have changed history, and you've touched our hearts," the prime minister said. And Netanyahu thanked him for backing up his "strong words" on Tehran's behavior "with strong actions."
"We living in the Middle East who are subject to this Iranian behavior" support Trump's Iran policies, Netanyahu said. Trump pulled out of a nuclear deal with Iran in May that was supported by the rest of the UN Security Council and the European Union.
He also praised Trump for his "robust defense of Israel's right of self-defense" and for his administration's efforts to shield Israel from bias at the UN.
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