Charting a striking new course for the Middle East, President Donald Trump on Wednesday signaled a new era of comity between the U.S. and Israel after rocky relations under President Barack Obama, saying he was more interested in an agreement that leads to peace than in any particular path to get there. Standing beside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump broke not only with recent U.S. presidents but also distanced the United States from the prevailing position of much of the world.
While Mr. Trump told the Prime Minister “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit,” he offered unwavering support for Israel, a pledge he appeared to substantiate with his comments about the shape of any agreement.
Saying that though it once appeared that a two-state solution was the “easier of the two” options for the Palestinians and Israel, President Trump said he’d be open to alternatives. “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he told reporters. “I can live with either one.”
The United States has formally backed the two-state solution as official policy since 2002, when President George W. Bush said in the White House Rose Garden that his vision was “two states, living side by side in peace and security.”
In practice, the U.S. already had embraced the policy informally. President Bill Clinton, who oversaw the Oslo Accords in the 1990s that were envisioned as a stepping stone to Palestinian statehood, said before leaving office that resolution to the conflict required a viable Palestinian state.
In Cairo on Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “There is no Plan B to the situation between Palestinians and Israelis but a two-state solution. … Everything must be done to preserve that possibility.”
At one point Wednesday, Mr. Trump noted the need for compromise in achieving any Mideast peace. PM Netanyahu interjected: “Both sides.”
At one point, the perennially explosive issue was converted into friendly banter. “Both sides will have to make compromises. You know that, right?” Trump asked, turning to Netanyahu.
“We’ll talk,” the prime minister replied, as laughter rippled through the briefing room.
Echoing language used by the prsdient over a need to combat “radical Islamic extremism,” Mr. Netanyahu said that for peace to be sustainable, two “prerequisites” must be met: “Recognition of the Jewish state and Israel’s security needs west of the Jordan” River.
While a two-state solution would involve Israel ceding territory that is strategically and religiously significant, many in the country believe a single binational state would be even more difficult to maintain. It would mean granting millions of Palestinians citizenship and voting rights, threatening Israel’s Jewish majority and its Jewish character.
The president said that when it comes to a peace deal, “the Israelis are going to have to show some flexibility, which is hard, it’s hard to do.& They’re going to have to show the fact that they really want to make a deal. I think our new concept that we’ve been discussing actually for a while is something that allows them to show more flexibility than they have in the past because you have a lot bigger canvas to play with.& And I think they’ll do that.”
Mr. Trump& did not offer any specifics on the “new concept” he referred to but expressed confidence that the Israelis want a peace deal.
“I think they very much would like to make a deal or I wouldn’t be happy and I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be as optimistic as I am.& I really think they — I can tell you from the standpoint of Bibi and from the standpoint of Israel, I really believe they want to make a deal and they’d like to see the big deal.”
For his part, Mr. Netanyahu echoed that sentiment.
“We’ll work something out but I’d like to see a deal be made. I think a deal will be made,” he said.
President Trump also stressed that the Palestinians must “stop the hate” and agree to recognize Israel.
“I think the Palestinians have to get rid of some of that hate that they’re taught from a very young age.& They’re taught tremendous hate.& I’ve seen what they’re taught. And you can talk about flexibility there too, but it starts at a very young age and it starts in the school room. And they have to acknowledge Israel — they’re going to have to do that. There’s no way a deal can be made if they’re not ready to acknowledge a very, very great and important country,” the President said
The President said that he’d like to see the U.S. Embassy in Israel moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but noted that “we’re looking at it with great care.”
Mr. Netanyahu began his remarks urging Mr. Trump to “let us seize this moment” to seek new avenues of peace in the Middle East.
“Mr. President, in rolling back militant Islam, we can seize an historic opportunity — because, for the first time in my lifetime, and for the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but, increasingly, as an ally. And I believe that under your leadership, this change in our region creates an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen security and advance peace.
“Let us seize this moment together. Let us bolster security. Let us seek new avenues of peace. And let us bring the remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States to even greater heights,” the Prime Minister.&
Both leaders stressed the danger posed by Iran.
“The security challenges faced by Israel are enormous, including the threat of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which I’ve talked a lot about,” President Trump said. “One of the worst deals I’ve ever seen is the Iran deal. My administration has already imposed new sanctions on Iran, and I will do more to prevent Iran from ever developing — I mean ever — a nuclear weapon.”