Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with American President Donald Trump, just a month into his presidency, and seemingly struck a new, friendly tone in relations between the two countries after an icy eight years.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Trump for his part seemed to advance a new American policy, one that does not insist on a two-state solution — an idea pushed strongly by Barack Obama’s administration especially in the last days of his presidency.
“I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like,” he said. “I can live with either one. I thought for a while it looked like the two-state, looked like it may be the easier of the two, but honestly if Bibi [Netanyahu’s nickname] and if the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”
Trump insisted that it was up to Israelis and Palestinians to decide what is best for them and that America would not dictate a solution.
After the news conference, which was marked by mutual praise and reassurances of friendship between the two nations, Israeli analysts were hard pressed to find anything negative about the exchange. In fact, several news presenters said they hadn’t felt such a warm and welcoming environment for an Israeli leader in years.
Amid all the warmth, Trump did press an Israeli sticking point, calling for a freeze on settlement expansion.
“I’d like to see you pull back on settlements for a little bit,” Trump told Netanyahu off the cuff during the question-and-answer portion.
Netanyahu responded indirectly that settlements were “not the core of the conflict,” and made no commitment to do so. Later, however, he told reporters that the two agreed to discuss the issue further.
“The president of the U.S. said that he is ready to work with us for the interests of Israel,” Netanyahu said. “There were no matters in which we did not see eye to eye. If there is a desire on his part to examine the matter of settlements, efforts should be made and it should be examined.”
Netanyahu did insist that any final agreement would include Israeli-control over regions that border other nations.
“In any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River because if we don’t, we know what will happen,” he said. “We’ll get another radical Islamic terrorist state in the Palestinian areas exploding the peace, exploding the Middle East.”
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with new CIA Director Mike Pompeo in Ramallah ahead of the Israeli-American meeting, The Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday.
A source told the paper that PA General Intelligence Chief Majed Faraj and a number of other senior PA officials attended the meeting. Apparently Faraj met with U.S. security officials in Washington, D.C. last week as well.
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said that the two-state solution was already a hard-reached compromise.
“We believe undermining the two-state solution is not a joke, it is a disaster and tragedy for Palestinians and the Israelis and the whole region,” he said.
“[The two-state solution] represents a painful and historic Palestinian compromise of recognizing Israel over 78 percent of historic Palestine,” he said. “Today, almost 6 million Palestinians live under Israeli control in all of historic Palestine, while almost 6 million Palestinians live in exile.”
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said that an American rejection of the two-state solution “would be destroying the chances for peace and undermining American interests, standing and credibility abroad.”
American media outlets slammed Trump for walking back the two-state solution, even though he officially did no such thing. The Washington Post described it as “a dangerous retreat” that reduced the chance for peace “and increased the chances that one of the few relatively peaceful corners of the region will return to conflict.”