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Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump speaking at UN Security Council, Spetember 26, 2018.(Photo by: GPO PHOTO DEPARTMENT)
Netanyahu walks a fine line as Trump embraces two-state paradigm
Trump's team declined to use the term up until Wednesday, when the president surprised many with his endorsement of the two-state solution.
WASHINGTON – Granting several interviews to American media outlets before departing New York, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu avoided repeated questioning on his endorsement of a two-state solution, just days after US President Donald Trump for the first time signaled a preference for it.

Speaking with CNN, NPR and others, Netanyahu said he was less interested in “labels” for solutions than their contents, detailing a settlement with the Palestinians that grants them all of the benefits of sovereignty without the ability to attack to the Jewish state.

“My view of a potential agreement is that the Palestinians have all the powers to govern themselves but none of the powers to threaten us. The key power that must, must not be in their hands is the question of security,” he told NPR’s Steve Inskeep. “I don’t want them either as citizens of Israel or subjects of Israel. But I think there is not an either-or model. I think we have a third model at the very least, which is what I’m talking about: basically all the powers of sovereignty, or nearly all the powers, but not the ones of security.”

Trump's Middle East peace team has been working for 20 months on a comprehensive proposal for a settlement to the conflict, likely to be rolled out by the end of the year, according to the president, who sat before Netanyahu on Wednesday told him that he has concluded two states "works best."

The prime minister told CNN’s Elise Labott that he would “seriously” look at the White House plan, although dodging her question on how he would respond to a series of Trump-backed proposals disadvantageous to him politically.

He has mentioned the idea of a Palestinian “state-minus” in the past, conditioned on a near-permanent Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley.

“Look, in the Middle East, which is littered with failed states, that’s often the best you can do,” he continued. “They would have those rights in their own territory. In other words, they have their own parliament, they have their own government, they have their own flag, they have their own anthem, they have their own tax system.”

After meeting with Trump and his peace team, Netanyahu told Israeli reporters that White House aides – including Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law leading the peace process – understand his discomfort with the political term “two-state solution.” That end-state is opposed by several members of his own government.

“I’ve discovered that if you use labels, you’re not going to get very far because different people mean different things when they say ‘states,’” Netanyahu told Labott, defending his avoidance of the term. “So rather than talk about labels, I’d like to talk about substance.”

Trump’s team also declined to use the term up until Wednesday, when the president surprised many with his endorsement of the two-state solution – long Washington’s preferred settlement to the storied conflict.

The premier also met with American Jewish leaders and Trump’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, before departing the city.

In his meeting with Jewish groups, Netanyahu “explained the importance of the Nation-State Law and also discussed other issues regarding the US and Diaspora Jewish communities,” according to a readout from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The law has been attacked by several Jewish American leaders as redundant, and was a prime target of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his speech to the UN General Assembly on Thursday.

Netanyahu repeatedly praised Haley throughout the week, including in his own Thursday address to the UN body, where he said the US envoy was standing up for Israel like none of her predecessors had before.

“President Trump’s moves with regard to UNESCO, UNRWA, anti-Israeli resolutions and decisions condemning Hamas – they are simply stunning,” Netanyahu said, speaking with Haley. “You have the energy and motivation, as well as the spirit. I want to thank you and say how much the people of Israel and friends of Israel around the world appreciate it.”
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