WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday to temporarily halt settlement construction and said the United States would not advocate for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, backing away from the U.S. position held since the Bill Clinton administration.
“I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit,” Trump said at a joint news conference with Netanyahu at the White House. “We’ll work something out, but I would like to see a deal be made.”
Netanyahu replied: “Let’s try it.”
The week after Trump was inaugurated, Israel announced plans to build thousands more homes in the West Bank, prompting the White House to advise that the construction of new settlements could jeopardize peace efforts.
Trump said that the United States will work diligently to encourage “a great peace deal,” but that it’s ultimately the Israelis and Palestinians “who must directly negotiate such an agreement.”
“I’m looking at two states and one state. I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one,” Trump said. “… I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two, but honestly if Bibi and if the Palestinians — if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best,” referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.
Trump said that in order for the peace process to progress, the Israelis are “going to have to show the fact that they really want to make a deal” and the Palestinians “have to get rid of some of that hate that they’re taught from a very young age” and acknowledge Israel as a state.
Netanyahu questioned the meaning of a “two-state solution,” and said he would prefer to deal in “substance” rather than “labels.” He said that the two main requirements for a peace deal have not changed.
“First, the Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state. They have to stop calling for Israel’s destruction,” Netanyahu said. Second, he said, “in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.”
Before the remarks, as news reports surfaced about Trump’s position on the creation of a Palestinian state, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry issued a statement Wednesday stating that if the reports are accurate, the “Trump administration’s withdrawal from adopting the two-state solution, will mark Netanyahu’s instant success that will strengthen his position.” The Foreign Ministry called on the European Union to advocate for the two-state solution.
Trump said he would still “love” to see the U.S. embassy moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, as he promised while campaigning, but said the decision is still pending. “We’re looking at that very, very strongly; we’re looking at that with great care, and we’ll see what happens,” Trump said.
Trump told an Israeli newspaper last week that, “The embassy is not an easy decision.”
Again calling the Iran nuclear deal enacted under former President Barack Obama “one of the worst deals,” Trump said in his opening remarks that he will work to “prevent Iran from ever developing – I mean ever – a nuclear weapon.” He did not go so far as to say he would “rip up” the deal, as he advocated while campaigning.
Netanyahu welcomed this commitment and said in this opening remarks that the efforts to combat “militant Islam” are at a historic tipping point.
“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,” Netanyahu said. “And I believe that under your leadership, this change in our region creates an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen security and advance peace.”
Asked to respond to those “who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones,” Trump referenced his Electoral College victory and said that he hopes to unite the “very, very divided nation.” Trump said that his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a senior White House advisor, are Jewish.
Netanyahu then said suggestions that Trump or anyone in his administration are anti-Semitic or that the President stoked anti-Semitic sentiment while campaigning should be “put to rest.”
“I’ve known the president and I’ve known his family and his team for a long time, and there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump,” Netanyahu said.