[Foreshadowing Trump’s policy shift, a senior White House official
said on Tuesday that peace did not necessarily have to entail
Palestinian statehood. Palestinians responded by warning Trump that
such a move would seriously damage U.S. credibility.]


WORLD NEWS | Thu Feb 16, 2017 | 4:13am EST
Meeting Israel's Netanyahu, Trump backs away from commitment to
Palestinian state

By Luke Baker and Matt Spetalnick | WASHINGTON
President Donald Trump on Wednesday dropped a U.S. commitment to a
two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the
longstanding bedrock of Washington's Middle East policy, even as he
urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to curb settlement

In the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since
Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, the Republican president backed
away from a U.S. embrace of the eventual creation of a Palestinian
state, upending a position taken by successive administrations and the
international community.

"I'm looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both
parties like," Trump told a joint news conference with Netanyahu. "I
can live with either one."

Trump vowed to work toward a peace deal between Israel and
Palestinians but said it would require compromise on both sides,
leaving it up to the parties themselves ultimately to decide on the
terms of any agreement.

But he offered no new prescription for achieving an accord that has
eluded so many of his predecessors, and Palestinian anger over his
abandonment of their goal of statehood could scrap any chance of
coaxing them back to the negotiating table.

Dropping a bombshell on Netanyahu as they faced reporters just before
sitting down for talks, Trump told him: “I'd like to see you hold back
on settlements for a little bit.”

The right-wing Israeli leader appeared momentarily startled. It was a
rare concession sought by Trump as the two leaders tried to set a new
positive tone after eight years of friction under Trump's Democratic
predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu insisted that Jewish settlements were “not the core of the
conflict” and made no public commitment to reduce settlement building
in the occupied West Bank. He later told reporters traveling with him
that he hoped to "reach an understanding" with Trump on settlements.

Trump echoed Netanyahu’s calls for Palestinians to recognize Israel as
a Jewish state – something they have refused to do – and to halt
incitement against Israelis.

But even as Trump promised to pursue peace, saying "it might be a
bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand," he
made no effort to address the deep distrust and other obstacles that
have prevented any substantive negotiations since 2014.

Setting an initially chummy tone, Trump greeted Netanyahu on a red
carpet rolled out to the White House driveway. The two leaders smiled,
shook hands and chatted amiably before heading inside, accompanied by
first lady Melania Trump and Netanyahu’s wife, Sara.

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) laughs with Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference at the White House in
Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Among the questions that figured prominently on the agenda was the
future of the two-state solution – the idea of creating a Palestine
living peacefully alongside Israel.

***Foreshadowing Trump’s policy shift, a senior White House official
said on Tuesday that peace did not necessarily have to entail
Palestinian statehood. Palestinians responded by warning Trump that
such a move would seriously damage U.S. credibility.*** [Emphasis

Giving a meandering response to a question on the issue, Trump
suggested that he could abide by whatever path the two sides decided.
"I'm happy with the one they like the best," he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seized on Trump's settlements
comment to demand a complete halt to such building - which
Palestinians see as meant to deny them a viable state - and said he
remained committed to "the two-state solution and to international

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned against
abandoning the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel,
saying there was "no alternative."

Netanyahu committed, with conditions, to the two-state goal in a
speech in 2009 and has broadly reiterated the aim since. But he has
also spoken of a "state minus" option, suggesting he could offer the
Palestinians deep-seated autonomy and the trappings of statehood
without full sovereignty.

At the news conference, he never ruled out a two-state solution, but
also made it sound like an almost impossible ideal. He said it would
require preconditions, including the Palestinians’ recognition of
Israel as a Jewish state and Israel's retaining security control "in
the area west of the Jordan River" - which would encompass all of the
West Bank.

Netanyahu and Trump shared several warm handshakes during the news
conference, especially after Trump’s opening remarks, when he said the
United States was Israel’s greatest friend.

But Trump also managed to catch Netanyahu off guard, at one point
saying that if a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict was going
to be reached “both sides will have to make compromises.” The
president then turned to Netanyahu and said: “You know that, right?”
Netanyahu replied with a chuckle, “Both sides.”

The two leaders agreed that there was an opening for enlisting
Israel's Arab neighbors - which share its concerns about Iran - into
any future peace efforts. But a retreat from the principle of
Palestinian statehood would cast doubt on the chances for cooperation
from the broader Arab world.


VIDEOVERBATIM: Trump 'can live with' one-state solution
Trump greets Netanyahu with smiles, handshakes and a jolt or two


Martin Indyk, a former Middle East negotiator under Obama and now at
the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, said of the
possibility that Washington might ditch its support for an independent
Palestinian nation, "It’s another nail in the coffin of the peace
process, which already had a lot of nails in it."

The one-state idea would be deeply problematic for both sides. One
concept would be two systems for two peoples, which Palestinians would
see as apartheid. Another version would mean equal rights for all,
including for Palestinians in an annexed West Bank, but that would
compromise Israel’s Jewish character.

Palestinians have expressed fear that their leadership will be frozen
out by Netanyahu's close bond with Trump. But CIA director Mike Pompeo
met Abbas in Ramallah on Tuesday, U.S. and Palestinian officials said.

For Netanyahu, the talks with Trump are an opportunity to reset ties
after a frequently combative relationship with Obama.

The prime minister, under investigation at home over allegations of
abuse of office, wanted no visible gaps between U.S. and Israeli
thinking during his visit.

Trump, who has been in office less than four weeks and whose foreign
policy apparatus is in disarray following the forced resignation of
his national security adviser Michael Flynn, brings with him an
unpredictability that Netanyahu's staff hoped would not impinge on the

The two leaders, who seemed to strike up an emerging “bromance” in
social media exchanges since the U.S. election, sought to demonstrate
good personal chemistry face-to-face as well.

Meetings with Obama were at best cordial and businesslike, at worst
tense and awkward. In one Oval Office encounter in 2011, Obama
grimaced as Netanyahu lectured him in front of the cameras on the
suffering of the Jewish people through the ages.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Arshad Mohammed, Ayesha Rascoe
and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, and
NidaMaayan Lubell and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark
Trevelyan, Howard Goller and Leslie Adler)

Peace Is Doable

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