WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump said he would support either a one-state or a two-state resolution when he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House and pledged to make a deal to end the Israel- Palestinian conflict.
“I’m looking at two states and one state. I am very happy with the one that both parties like. I thought for a while the two state might be easier to do, but honestly, if Bibi and the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, then I am happy with the one they like the best,” Trump said.
He is the first US president in at least two decades to refrain from pledging allegiance to the idea of a two-state paradigm and to open the door to the possibility of alternative ideas to achieve peace between Israeli and Palestinians, as well as in the wider region.
Netanyahu, in turn, alluded to his continued support for a two-state resolution to the conflict, noting that his opinion on the matter had not changed in the eight years since he first spoke of two states for two peoples.
Netanyahu and Trump meet for first time in Washington at joint White House press conference on Feb. 15, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)
The two men spoke in advance of a meeting that lasted for several hours in which they discussed their policy positions on major issues in the region: Iran, Syria, ISIS and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was their first face-to-face conversation since Trump’s inauguration, and was different in tone and tenor from the contentious meetings Netanyahu had held with Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
The affection between the two men was clear from their smiles and warm handshakes.
The two leaders, whose relationship reaches back to the 1980s, both spoke of each other in admiring tones.
Trump explained that their strong ties gave him an advantage other US presidents had lacked when it came to tackling the thorny issues with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Bibi and I have known each other a long time,” said Trump, adding that Netanyahu was “smart and a great negotiator.”
As a result, “I think we are going to make a deal,” he said.
Trump said such a deal was personally important to him, and that he planned to work “very, very diligently” toward an agreement.
There were a few points of tension at the press conference, with Trump asking Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements,” and saying that Israel would have to take steps for peace.
“Both sides will have to make compromises – you know that, right?” Trump asked Netanyahu, who then joked about Trump’s 1987 book The Art of the Deal.
“The Israelis are going to have to show some flexibility and I think they’ll do that,” Trump said.
Both men said that a deal would likely incorporate participation from the wider Arab world, which for its part insists peace will only come through the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu repeated his belief that settlement activity is not central to the conflict.
But he did acknowledge “it’s an issue,” and said he would work with Trump on mechanisms to avoid repeated confrontations over construction.
While the two leaders seemed at odds on settlement activity and the viability of a peace process, they seemed in agreement on Iran, which they said was a focus of their consultations.
Next to a grinning Netanyahu, Trump repeated his criticism of the international agreement governing Iran’s nuclear program as the worst deal ever made. And Netanyahu characterized Iran as the core of a scourge Trump has vowed to eliminate: radical Islamic terrorism.
“You’ve shown great clarity and courage in confronting this challenge head-on,” Netanyahu said, expressing concern with Iran’s ballistic missile program and the long-term growth of its nuclear infrastructure in the latter years of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The press conference was followed by meetings and a working lunch. Netanyahu will meet with congressional leadership on Thursday afternoon.
Also attending the joint press conference in the East Room were the leaders’ wives, Sara Netanyahu and Melania Trump; White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump; White House press secretary Sean Spicer; chief strategist Steve Bannon; chief of staff Reince Priebus; and Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.