Applause, Anxiety in the Region Greet Trump’s Remarks on ‘Two-State Solution’

By Patrick Goodenough | February 16, 2017 | 4:28am EST
President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(CNSNews.com) – President Trump on Wednesday downplayed a “two-state solution” to the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, a day after the new U.N. secretary-general insisted that there was no alternative if what he called the “mother” of all conflicts across the region was to be resolved.

At a joint White House press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Trump refrained from giving the kind of whole-hearted endorsement of the “two-state solution” that has long characterized international diplomacy.

Instead, he sounded almost indifferent about a policy which for decades has been held up as the only way to bring to an end the drawn-out conflict – the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, on disputed land largely viewed by the international community as “occupied Palestinian territory.”

“So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said in response to a question on the policy. “I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”

He added that he had thought for a while that a two-state solution may be the easier of the two to achieve. However, the president said, “if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best. “

A day earlier, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres cautioned against drifting away from strong support for the two-state solution.

Speaking at Cairo University, he said the Israeli-Palestinian issue was “probably the mother” of all of the conflicts in the region.

He said it was his opinion, as well as that of the overwhelming majority of U.N. member-states, that “there is no plan B but the two-state solution.” It was necessary, Guterres added, “to avoid all actions that undermine the possibility of the two-state solution.”

In Israel and the Palestinian self-rule areas, Trump’s equivocal remarks about a principle that has enjoyed near-global consensus brought mixed reactions.

Right-wing Israeli politicians hailed what some called a “new reality” and new era of U.S.-Israel relations.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the religious nationalist party Jewish Home said Netanyahu’s White House visit marked the end of the two-state approach.

Bennett said the Palestinians already have two states – the Gaza Strip and Jordan – and have no need for a third one.

(Some Israeli nationalists have long argued that “Jordan is Palestine,” pointing to the fact that the British created Transjordan out of the eastern two-thirds of mandated Palestine – which a century ago was earmarked in the Balfour Declaration as a homeland for the Jews. The Minority Rights Group International estimates that “Palestinians” account for around half of Jordan’s population.)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, praised the U.S. president on Twitter for understanding that the two-state solution is not the only way to achieve peace.

Erdan said it was time to “reverse the equation” and to start turning up the pressure on the Palestinians.

But Isaac Herzog, head of the center-left Zionist Union opposition bloc, said that every Israeli should be worried about the notion of a single state between the Jordan River and Mediterranean, “which means there will be no Jewish state.”

Also unimpressed were Palestinian leaders who have been accustomed to strong White House support for a two-state solution, although they directed their criticism at Netanyahu rather than at the new American president.

“The insistence of the Israeli government in destroying the two-state option through settlement building and imposing facts on the ground will lead to more extremism and instability,” Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement.

He also said the Palestinians were ready “to deal positively with the Donald Trump administration to make peace.”

Abbas called on Netanyahu “to respond affirmatively to the request of President Donald Trump and the international community to halt all settlement activities including that in East Jerusalem.”  (At their press conference Trump asked Netanyahu to “hold off on settlements for a little bit.” He did not refer to east Jerusalem.)

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat’s criticism also targeted Netanyahu rather than the U.S. administration, accusing the Israeli leader of promoting what he said amounts to “apartheid.”

After a meeting with the speaker of the British House of Commons, Erekat urged Britain to “take concrete measures in order to save the two-state solution, including to ban all Israeli settlement products.”

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