(CNSNews.com) – Seven months into the Trump administration, Palestinian leaders say they still don’t know what President Trump’s position is on their conflict with Israel, frustrated that he refuses to commit publicly to the so-called “two-state solution” as the key to resolving it.
As a delegation led by White House adviser Jared Kushner arrived in the region for meetings with Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, there was a glimpse of that frustration in the State Department briefing room on Wednesday.
“Why are you so loath to say – to commit yourself, to recommit yourself to the two-state solution?” asked Said Arikat, Washington bureau chief for the Palestinian newspaper Al- Quds.
Spokeswoman Heather Nauert began her response by saying Trump has made it clear from the outset that Mideast peace is one of his top priorities.
“We want to work toward a peace that both sides can agree to and that both sides find sustainable,” she said.
“We are not going to state what the outcome has to be. It has to be workable to both sides,” Nauert continued. “And I think, really, that’s the best view as to not really bias one side over the other, to make sure that they can work through it.”
Arikat then asked whether that meant the U.S. was departing from the long-held position that “the best possible outcome, that everybody agrees upon, is the two-state solution.”
“Our policy on this hasn’t changed,” she replied.
Nauert’s inference that embracing the two-state solution would amount to showing “bias [to] one side over the other” is not something Palestinian leaders and supporters will have heard publicly from a U.S. administration for at least 15 years.
The last two presidents committed to an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. President George W. Bush was the first to do so publicly in a June 2002 speech, reversing more than four decades of American policy.
Since Bush, Palestinian leaders have grown accustomed to American officials and diplomats invoking the two-state solution. They were shaken when Trump last February would not endorse it. He said he would be fine with either a one-state or two-state solution, as long as the parties were as well.
Last week Nabil Shaath, foreign affairs advisor to Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, told Voice of Palestine radio he was not optimistic about the upcoming visit by Kushner and his colleagues, as a result of the president “not giving any special attention or references to the two-state solution.”
Then at the weekend, Abbas was quoted as telling a delegation of left-wing Israeli lawmakers that despite multiple meetings with U.S. envoys, he still “can’t understand” Trump’s position on the conflict.
Abbas said he intends to ask Kushner during this week’s meetings to get the White House to express its commitment to a two-state solution and a demand that Israel halt construction in settlements on disputed territory.
Joining Kushner on the visit are special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt and deputy national security advisor for strategy, Dina Powell.
The three met Tuesday with Jordan’s King Abdullah. According to a statement from the palace in Amman, they discussed efforts to move peace talks forward, “based on the two-state solution as the only way to end the conflict.”
Early this year, United Nations secretary-general António Guterres also declared that the two-state solution was the only way to resolve what he called “the mother” of all of the conflicts in the region.
It was his opinion, and that of the overwhelming majority of U.N. member-states, that “there is no plan B,” he said during a visit to Cairo.
Netanyahu in a landmark 2009 speech for the first time endorsed Palestinian statehood – but laid down two conditions, saying a future Palestinian state must be demilitarized, and that it recognize Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people.
Abbas has repeatedly rejected both conditions.