White House: Mideast peace may not be 2-state solution

FILE - In this Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. As Netanyahu visits the White House, the Trump administration has suggested that peace between the Israelis and Palestinians may not come in the form of a two-state solution — a position that could represent a dramatic shift from 20 years of U.S. policy. Speaking to reporters ahead of President Donald Trump's meeting Wednesday with Netanyahu, a senior White House official said Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, that Trump is eager to begin facilitating a peace deal between the two sides and hoping to bring them together soon. (Gali Tibbon, Pool via AP, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House, the Trump administration has suggested that peace between the Israelis and Palestinians may not come in the form of a two-state solution — a position that could represent a dramatic shift from 20 years of U.S. policy.

Speaking to reporters ahead of President Donald Trump’s meeting Wednesday with Netanyahu, a senior White House official said Tuesday that President Trump is eager to begin facilitating a peace deal between the two sides and hoping to bring them together soon.

But the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the meeting beforehand, said it will be up to the Israelis and Palestinians to determine what peace will entail — and that peace, not a two-state solution, is the goal.

Meanwhile, two senior Palestinian officials say CIA chief Mike Pompeo secretly held talks in the West Bank with Mahmoud Abbas, the first high-level meeting between the Palestinian leader and a Trump administration official. They said Wednesday the meeting took place Tuesday at Abbas’ headquarters in Ramallah. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters about the meeting, which had not been announced.

The White House had no comment Wednesday on the report.

For decades, the U.S. position has been that Israelis and Palestinians must work through direct negotiations to establish two states living side by side, at peace, with Palestinians to ultimately create an independent state. All serious peace negotiations in that time have assumed that the two-state solution was the basis for future peace.

State Department officials expressed surprise at the White House official’s comments and said Tuesday they were not aware of any policy shift on the desirability of a two-state solution. Three officials said the department was seeking clarification from the White House comments, which came as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was having dinner with Netanyahu. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

During his final White House news conference, Obama warned that the moment for a two-state solution “may be passing” and said the “status quo is unsustainable.”

It was not clear if the Trump White House had intended to declare a major shift in policy during the hastily arranged briefing Tuesday night.

The two leaders will hold a joint news conference before convening for meetings and a working lunch. The prime minister will then head to Capitol Hill for meetings with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Mr. Trump takes pride in his deal-making skills and said during his campaign that he’d love the challenge of negotiating a Mideast agreement. He has appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to lead the effort.

The White House official said the visit was meant to mark a new, closer relationship between Israel and the United States, an alliance that came under strain during the Obama years.

Mr. Trump and Netanyahu are likely to discuss peace efforts as well as expanded Israeli settlements, Iran and the president’s campaign pledge to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The latter would signal U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move that would infuriate Palestinians. They claim the eastern sector of the city, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as their capital.

American presidents have long struck a delicate balance fin addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stressing the close U.S. friendship with Israel and lavishing the Jewish state with bountiful aid. But recent presidents also have tried to negotiate, and they have called out Israel for actions seen as undermining peace efforts, such as expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Mr. Trump told The Associated Press during his campaign that he wanted to be “very neutral” and try to get both sides together. But his tone became decidedly more pro-Israel as the campaign progressed. He has spoken disparagingly of Palestinians, saying they have been “taken over” by or are condoning militant groups. Some of his top aides challenge the legitimacy of Palestinian demands for a state.

After repeatedly clashing with Obama for eight years, capped by a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, Netanyahu seemed relieved by Mr. Trump’s arrival. Mr. Trump slammed the U.S. decision to abstain from the U.N. vote, saying in December that Israel is being treated “very, very unfairly.”

Now in office, however, Mr. Trump has been forced to re-evaluate and revisit his position on a number of issues — including those relating to Israel.

After initially greeting Israel’s settlement announcements with a shrug, Mr. Trump appears to be having second thoughts. In an interview with a pro-Netanyahu Israeli daily last Friday, Mr. Trump said, “I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”

While Wednesday’s meeting is expected to be much warmer than Netanyahu’s famously tense encounters with Obama, the Israeli leader will still need to tread with caution on sensitive issues like Israeli settlement construction, Iran and the war in Syria.

In dealing with President Trump, Netanyahu will also face some potential pitfalls. Key constituencies, including congressional Democrats and many American Jews, oppose Mr. Trump’s policies, while at home Netanyahu is under pressure from his hard-line allies to push for policies that Mr. Trump may not support.

“The challenge to Netanyahu is domestic,” said Yousef Munayyer, a political analyst and executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights. “He spent so much time arguing that Obama was the problem that now that we are in the post-Obama era, his right-wing coalition partners want to exploit the moment and take huge steps that would further isolate Israel, trigger international condemnation from other corners, and potentially destabilize the land and Israeli politics.”

The Israeli prime minister is also scheduled to have breakfast Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence before departing for Israel.

NBC4i.com provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s