No Plan B for Palestinian state

February 16, 2017
Sarah Benton

This posting has these items:
1) Reuters: Meeting Israel’s Netanyahu, Trump backs away from commitment to Palestinian state, Trump startles Bibi;
2) The National: The end of the two-state solution – killed off by Trump and Netanyahu;
3) Haaretz: Trump-Netanyahu Meeting: Ignorance, Contradictions and Empty Talk of a Deal, Barak Ravid is full of scorn;
4) Ma’an: Israeli, Palestinian officials react to Trump’s shift away from 2-state solution, Palestinians already think the 2-state solution is dead;
5) FT: Trump shifts stance on two-state solution to Israel-Palestine conflict;
6) Foreign Policy: One-State Solution, or Two? Trump’s ‘Happy With the One That Both Parties Like’;
7) WP: Trump steps back from U.S. commitment to two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution;
8= NY Times: Palestinians Dismayed as U.S. Appears to Back Off Two-State Solution;
9) CS Monitor: End of the two-state solution? What Israel, Palestinians would be giving up,  views of Avi Buskila, Peace Now, Omar Barghouti and Prof. Shlomo Avineri;

What a joke! Joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/ Reuters

Meeting Israel’s Netanyahu, Trump backs away from commitment to Palestinian state

By Luke Baker and Matt Spetalnick, Reuters
February 16, 2017

WASHINGTON–President Donald Trump on Wednesday dropped a U.S. commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the longstanding bedrock of Washington’s Middle East policy, even as he urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to curb settlement construction.

In the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, the Republican president backed away from a U.S. embrace of the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, upending a position taken by successive administrations and the international community.

“I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both parties like,” Trump told a joint news conference with Netanyahu. “I can live with either one.”

Trump vowed to work toward a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians but said it would require compromise on both sides, leaving it up to the parties themselves ultimately to decide on the terms of any agreement.

But he offered no new prescription for achieving an accord that has eluded so many of his predecessors, and Palestinian anger over his abandonment of their goal of statehood could scrap any chance of coaxing them back to the negotiating table.

Dropping a bombshell on Netanyahu as they faced reporters just before sitting down for talks, Trump told him: “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

The right-wing Israeli leader appeared momentarily startled. It was a rare concession sought by Trump as the two leaders tried to set a new positive tone after eight years of friction under Trump’s Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu insisted that Jewish settlements were “not the core of the conflict” and made no public commitment to reduce settlement building in the occupied West Bank. He later told reporters traveling with him that he hoped to “reach an understanding” with Trump on settlements.

Trump echoed Netanyahu’s calls for Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state – something they have refused to do – and to halt incitement against Israelis.

But even as Trump promised to pursue peace, saying “it might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand,” he made no effort to address the deep distrust and other obstacles that have prevented any substantive negotiations since 2014.

Setting an initially chummy tone, Trump greeted Netanyahu on a red carpet rolled out to the White House driveway. The two leaders smiled, shook hands and chatted amiably before heading inside, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump and Netanyahu’s wife, Sara.

Among the questions that figured prominently on the agenda was the future of the two-state solution – the idea of creating a Palestine living peacefully alongside Israel.

Foreshadowing Trump’s policy shift, a senior White House official said on Tuesday that peace did not necessarily have to entail Palestinian statehood. Palestinians responded by warning Trump that such a move would seriously damage U.S. credibility.

Giving a meandering response to a question on the issue, Trump suggested that he could abide by whatever path the two sides decided. “I’m happy with the one they like the best,” he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seized on Trump’s settlements comment to demand a complete halt to such building – which Palestinians see as meant to deny them a viable state – and said he remained committed to “the two-state solution and to international law.”


United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres [L] warned against abandoning the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel, saying there was “no alternative.”

Netanyahu committed, with conditions, to the two-state goal in a speech in 2009 and has broadly reiterated the aim since. But he has also spoken of a “state minus” option, suggesting he could offer the Palestinians deep-seated autonomy and the trappings of statehood without full sovereignty.

At the news conference, he never ruled out a two-state solution, but also made it sound like an almost impossible ideal. He said it would require preconditions, including the Palestinians’ recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and Israel’s retaining security control “in the area west of the Jordan River” – which would encompass all of the West Bank.

Netanyahu and Trump shared several warm handshakes during the news conference, especially after Trump’s opening remarks, when he said the United States was Israel’s greatest friend.

But Trump also managed to catch Netanyahu off guard, at one point saying that if a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict was going to be reached “both sides will have to make compromises.” The president then turned to Netanyahu and said: “You know that, right?” Netanyahu replied with a chuckle, “Both sides.”

The two leaders agreed that there was an opening for enlisting Israel’s Arab neighbors – which share its concerns about Iran – into any future peace efforts. But a retreat from the principle of Palestinian statehood would cast doubt on the chances for cooperation from the broader Arab world.


Martin Indyk, a former Middle East negotiator under Obama and now at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, said of the possibility that Washington might ditch its support for an independent Palestinian nation, “It’s another nail in the coffin of the peace process, which already had a lot of nails in it.”

The one-state idea would be deeply problematic for both sides. One concept would be two systems for two peoples, which Palestinians would see as apartheid. Another version would mean equal rights for all, including for Palestinians in an annexed West Bank, but that would compromise Israel’s Jewish character.

Palestinians have expressed fear that their leadership will be frozen out by Netanyahu’s close bond with Trump. But CIA director Mike Pompeo met Abbas in Ramallah on Tuesday, U.S. and Palestinian officials said.

For Netanyahu, the talks with Trump are an opportunity to reset ties after a frequently combative relationship with Obama.

The prime minister, under investigation at home over allegations of abuse of office, wanted no visible gaps between U.S. and Israeli thinking during his visit.

Trump, who has been in office less than four weeks and whose foreign policy apparatus is in disarray following the forced resignation of his national security adviser Michael Flynn, brings with him an unpredictability that Netanyahu’s staff hoped would not impinge on the discussions.

The two leaders, who seemed to strike up an emerging “bromance” in social media exchanges since the U.S. election, sought to demonstrate good personal chemistry face-to-face as well.

Meetings with Obama were at best cordial and businesslike, at worst tense and awkward. In one Oval Office encounter in 2011, Obama grimaced as Netanyahu lectured him in front of the cameras on the suffering of the Jewish people through the ages.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Arshad Mohammed, Ayesha Rascoe and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, and NidaMaayan Lubell and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Trevelyan, Howard Goller and Leslie Adler)

The end of the two-state solution – killed off by Trump and Netanyahu

By Rob Crilly, The National
February 15, 2017

New York // Donald Trump publicly ended decades of US foreign policy on Wednesday by dropping Washington’s commitment to the two-state solution in the Middle East ahead of his first White House meeting with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu.

The mood was warm between the two leaders as they stood side by side during a news conference to underline the mutual understanding between their two countries.

Mr Trump said Israel must make compromises and said settlement building would not help the search for peace but his reversal on a two-state solution will send shock waves through the Palestinian territories and around the world.

“I’m looking at two-state and the one state and I like the one that both parties like,” he said. “I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”

The two-state solution — with Israel and a sovereign Palestine existing side by side — has been the starting point for any peace talks for decades.

However, stalled negotiations and Israeli settlement building have led even some Palestinian leaders to doubt that two states remained viable.

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations secretary general, said the world remained agreed on the way forward and that everything possible should be done to keep the two-state solution alive.

“There is no plan B other than a two-state solution,” he said in Cairo.

For his part, Mr Netanyahu avoided addressing the question directly but said he wanted to focus on “substance” not “labels”.

The Israeli prime minister said shared opposition to Iran and to ISIL had brought a “historic opportunity” for an alliance with Arab states and a chance to advance security and find peace in the region. The approach — known as “outside-in” — involves building agreements with Gulf states, who would then encourage Palestinians to buy into a new peace deal.

“Let us see new avenues of peace and bring the remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States to even greater heights,” he said.

Mr Netanyahu once again outlined his two criteria for finding peace: “It’s the recognition of the Jewish state and it’s Israel’s security control of the entire area, otherwise we are just fantasising, otherwise we’ll just get another failed state, another terrorist state, an Islamist dictatorship that will not work for peace.”

Before the news conference, Palestinian leaders reacted with alarm to White House briefings that Mr Trump would not refer to the two-state solution during the talks.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Order, accused Mr Trump of dealing in “alternative realities”.

“If the Trump Administration rejects this policy it would be destroying the chances for peace and undermining American interests, standing and credibility abroad,” she said. “Accommodating the most extreme and irresponsible elements in Israel and in the White House is no way to make responsible foreign policy.”

Hours earlier it emerged that Mike Pompeo, the CIA chief, held secret talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, according to Maan, the Palestinian news agency.

Palestinian officials said the meeting took place on Tuesday at Mr Abbas’ headquarters in Ramallah, in a move that will be seen as an attempt to placate anxiety about Mr Trump’s close relationship with the Israeli leader.

Mr Netanyahu has spent 11 years in power during two stints but has never overlapped with a Republican president. After eight frosty years of Barack Obama, his personal links to the new administration — Mr Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is a family friend — mark a chance to reframe a crucial relationship.

Mr Trump’s campaign promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, thus recognising the city’s status as capital of Israel, and several public pronouncements of friendship suggested a budding bromance between the two leaders.

Since taking power the new American president has prevaricated on the issue of relocating the embassy and suggested settlement building was not helpful to finding peace. Rather than a cooling of relations, some analysts believe the moves will help the Israeli prime minister maintain the status quo as he contends with a domestic political crisis.

During the news conference Mr Trump once again said he wanted to relocate the embassy but offered no timeline or concrete commitment.

Mr Netanyahu publicly signed up to the two-state solution in 2009 under pressure from Mr Obama. Since then he has avoided further endorsements as he battles hardliners within his own coalition.

New prefabricated homes are seen under construction in the West Bank between the Israeli outpost of Amona and the Israeli settlement of Ofra on January 31, 2017. Photo by AFP

In the meantime, settlement building has continued apace. Some 350,000 Israelis in a patchwork of settlements across the West Bank and a quarter of a million in East Jerusalem make a two-state solution more difficult to deliver with every passing year.

Either way, both Israel and the US have a huge interest in a successful first meeting between their leaders, said Dennis Ross, who served as a Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton.

“It’s going to succeed in no small part because both President Trump and prime minister Netanyahu have a very big stake in wanting to demonstrate that whatever the problems were with the last administration, they are now gone,” he said. “And that in no small part they were attributable to the last administration, meaning to President Obama.”

*With Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters


The Trumps and Netanyahus in the Oval Office. Photo February 15th by AP.

Trump-Netanyahu Meeting: Ignorance, Contradictions and Empty Talk of a Deal

Trump stressed repeatedly he wants a ‘deal’ for Israel, the Palestinians and Arab states. But it’s hard to understand how all the internal contradictions could be sorted out to realize such a goal.

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz premium
February 16, 2017

WASHINGTON – There were lots of honours, lots of hugs, and a lot of chemistry at the White House press conference held Wednesday night by U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But along with the warm and fuzzy atmosphere there was a lot of ignorance, internal contradictions, political sloganeering and more than a few disagreements that were elegantly shoved aside.

Twitter was on fire after the press conference as tweeters on both sides of the Atlantic and from both sides of the political spectrum tried in both Hebrew and English to interpret the two leaders’ remarks, particularly Trump’s.

But everything uttered by the U.S. president must be taken with a grain of salt. What was clearer than anything at the press conference is that Trump and his people have very limited, at best, familiarity with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and are very far from formulating a coherent strategy.

Trump stressed repeatedly that he wants a “deal” for Israel, the Palestinians and Arab states. But even after you discount the background noise it’s hard to understand how all the internal contradictions could be sorted out to realize such a goal.

A warm and excellent meeting with President Donald Trump – a successful day for the State of Israel!

 Bibi’s tweets

One of the most significant things that Trump said related to the substance of the deal he wants to achieve. He breezily declared that as far as he’s concerned, the two-state or one-state solutions are all the same to him. He’ll go with the flow. All that’s left is the minor detail of getting the two sides to agree on something.

For the first time, a U.S. president has brushed aside the two-state solution and expressed support for the possibility of turning Israel into a binational state. Not Palestinian autonomy, as Naftali Bennett would like.

Not a state-minus, as Netanyahu would prefer. One Jewish-Arab state. This message is almost anti-Zionist. It’s doubtful that Trump himself understood the significance of what he said.

Palestinians who support one state were probably celebrating, while Theodor Herzl, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, David Ben-Gurion and Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook were turning over in their graves.

Yet Trump also said several things that are essentially the complete opposite, most notably when he addressed construction in the West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem.

Trump stood right next to Netanyahu and called on Israel directly and unapologetically to curb construction in the settlements. This makes it hard to see how the Israeli government can now build unrestrainedly in the West Bank, let alone annex anything.

When former U.S. President Barack Obama said the same thing to Netanyahu at their first meeting in May 2009, there was a major onslaught against him by the settler lobby in the media, the cabinet, and the Knesset.

When Trump said the exact same thing Wednesday, and was evasive regarding his commitment to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, the Israeli right began dancing, as thought the End of Days was coming true right before our eyes.

Netanyahu and Trump ostensibly presented an “alternative” diplomatic initiative at the press conference, one that goes from the outside in, starting with the Arab world and then moving to the Palestinian arena.

But Netanyahu tried the same thing during Obama’s first term as well as his second term. In both instances he discovered that while it sounds good, it’s not exactly realistic. No one has found an Arab leader willing to improve relations with Israel before the Jewish state makes progress with the Palestinians.

It isn’t clear whether Trump was really serious when he spoke of reaching a package deal in the Middle East. If the U.S. president and his advisers will really try to promote this, they’ll have no choice but to resolve the same contradictions that arose during the press conference.

One can assume that during the first visits by Trump’s envoys to Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Arab and European capitals, they will find out that talk of burying the Palestinian state is premature.

Every time Trump and his people ran up into reality since he took office they returned to reality – with regard to the relations with China, the Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory, and the moving of the embassy to Jerusalem. There is no reason to think that the same won’t take place with regard to the two-state solution.

Israeli, Palestinian officials react to Trump’s shift away from 2-state solution

By Ma’an news
February 16, 2017

BETHLEHEM — Following a controversial meeting held on Wednesday between US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli and Palestinian leaders reacted with praise and condemnation in response to a clear shift in US policy away from backing the two-state solution.

Trump responded to a question on Wednesday regarding his administration’s position on the two-state solution during a press conference preceding the meeting, a day after a US official said that the country was not necessarily committed to the policy as the sole way out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said, eliciting laughter from Netanyahu. “I can live with either one.”

While members of the international community have rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, a growing number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace given the existing political context, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.

Israeli reactions

Right-wing Israeli politicians were quick to applaud the meeting between Trump and Netanyahu, with Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoting far-right Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett as saying that “the Palestinian flag has been taken off the flagpole and was replaced with the Israeli flag. The Palestinians already have two states — Gaza and Jordan. There is no need for a third.”

He also wrote on social media: “A new era. New ideas. No need for third Palestinian state beyond Jordan and Gaza. Big day for Israelis and reasonable Arabs.”

Bennett had previously expressed his support for Trump, saying in November following the US presidential elections that a Trump presidency would mark the end of a push for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

“Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the center of the country (Israel), which would hurt our security and just cause,” Bennett said at the time. “This is the position of the President-elect, as written in his platform, and it should be our policy, plain and simple. The era of a Palestinian state is over.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan from the Likud Party was quoted by Haaretz as saying that Trump’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “proves we are in a new era. The positions the president took indicate an understanding that the two-state solution is not the only solution for achieving peace and that the time has come to reverse the equation and exert pressure on the Palestinian side.”

Right-wing ministers across the board indicated their view that Israel was entering a “new era” not restricted by the two-state solution or longstanding peace standards established by the international community.

Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev, also from the Likud party, reportedly said that “the era of the freeze has ended. It’s the end of the [construction] freeze in Judea and Samaria,” an Israeli term for the West Bank, adding that “a new diplomatic era began in Washington today.”

Other right-wing ministers expressed their relief that the Israeli government no longer had to maintain an image of supporting the two-state solution which international peace efforts have focused on for decades as a route out of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

“Finally the end has come for a mistaken and dangerous idea: setting up a Palestinian terror state in the heart of the Land of Israel,” Israeli Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis was quoted by Haaretz as saying.

Meanwhile, Knesset member Shelly Yacimovic from the Zionist Union, considered to be more “left-wing” in the Israeli political landscape, reportedly stated that Trump’s remarks on Wednesday evening did not differ in any major way from previous US administrations, pointing out that Trump had expressed his disapproval of Israeli settlement expansions and articulated his support for finding a solution that benefits both parties.

Palestinian and international reactions

Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour released a statement following the press conference saying that peace would not be achieved “without determining the basis of the peace process,” and highlighted the fact that the majority of the international community continued to support a two-state solution despite Trump and Netanyahu’s comments.

Meanwhile, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasim called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to abandon negotiations with Israel and the belief that the US is capable of acting as a mediator to the peace process, adding that Trump had made it clear that the current and previous US administrations were biased in favour of Israel.

The US has never been serious about giving the Palestinian people their rights [he said in the statement adding that the US has only] “provided a cover for Israel to continue its aggression against the Palestinian people and confiscation of our lands.”

He also said that the US administration backing down from its already weak position on the two-state solution indicated an escalation of US bias in favour of the Israeli occupation.

Fatah official Rafaat Elayyan [above] also released a statement condemning the meeting, saying that Netanyahu and Trump had “publicly killed the dream of establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.” He also stated that Trump had disregarded international law and all previous agreements between the Palestinians and Israelis to achieve peace in the region.

“We are facing today an occupation that refuses to establish an independent state and aims to annex the West Bank and Jerusalem to Israel by expanding settlements supported by the US administration,” Elayyan said. He went on to urge the Palestinian leadership to “adopt a new strategy” based on unification that can end national conflict within Palestine.

“If the Trump-Netanyahu meeting is not enough to unify our national front, then we will never be able to confront this challenge,” Elayyan added.

Elayyan also said that Palestinians were waiting for the Arab Summit to be held in Amman next month where Muslim and Arab states should take a stand to support Palestinian people and their rights “before it’s too late.”

Elayyan added that Trump had given “a green light for the Israeli government to continue settlement activity and aggression against the Palestinian people,” and underscored that the US would be responsible for any “explosive situation” in the region.

“The Palestinian people will continue our fight towards freedom and democracy,” he said.

Meanwhile, Media Commissioner of the Fatah movement Nasser al-Qudwa said that “rejecting the two-state solution is rejecting the peace process,” and underscored that any substitute would be a “bloody and painful confrontation.”

He also said that the move away from the two-state solution would not make the Palestinian state disappear or weaken the Palestinian idea for an independent state, and that a one-state solution where all citizens would be equal is “pure nonsense and impossible.”

Al-Qudwa added that the Palestinian leadership and Fatah had a clear position stressing the importance of Palestinian national existence and the establishment of a Palestinian state, noting that Palestinian rights were “non-negotiable.”

The left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) said in a statement that the Trump-Netanyahu meeting marked a “clear turning point to terminate Palestinian goals,” adding that the policy shift represented a violation of international law.

The PFLP highlighted five steps it believed must be conducted to confront the recent US-Israeli policy shift: declare a unified Palestinian stance rejecting US-Israeli policies; withdraw Palestinian recognition of Israel; hold an urgent meeting between all national and Islamic forces to prepare a new national strategy to address oncoming challenges and protect national rights; end the Palestinian national conflict immediately and continue efforts to hold a Palestinian national council session; and cease the PA’s “creation of illusions” on the international stage and pull out of the Oslo Accords.

Meanwhile, High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said on Wednesday that the EU would always support the two-state solution, adding that “there is no doubt that our embassy [Italian] will stay in Tel Aviv… and we are still convinced that the solution is coexistence between two states Israel and Palestine.”

On Wednesday, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said that the two-state solution was already a hard-reached compromise as a basis for peaceful conflict resolution, and that the proposed Israeli alternative to such a solution would equal to apartheid.

“(The two-state solution) represents a painful and historic Palestinian compromise of recognizing Israel over 78 percent of historic Palestine,” he said. “Today, almost six million Palestinians live under Israeli control in all of historic Palestine, while almost six million Palestinians live in exile.”

“Contrary to Netanyahu’s plan of one state and two systems, apartheid, the only alternative to two sovereign and democratic states on the 1967 border is one single secular and democratic state with equal rights for everyone, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, on all of historic Palestine,” Erekat stated.

Trump shifts stance on two-state solution to Israel-Palestine conflict

President suggests wider accord but urges pause on settlement expansion

By John Reed in Jerusalem, FT
February 15, 2017

Donald Trump retreated from more than two decades of US policymaking in the Middle East on Wednesday when he said the two-state solution was not the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Flanked by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, Mr Trump said he was looking at a solution that would “take in many countries and would cover a much larger territory”. “I am looking at two-states and one-state [solutions], and I like the one that both parties like,” Mr Trump said, before the two leaders held their first official meeting.

Mr Trump also urged Israel to “hold back” on building in Jewish settlements in the West Bank for “a little bit”. He told the Palestinians to “get rid of some of the hate they are taught from a young age” in pursuit of a peace deal.  “The US will encourage a peace and really a great peace deal,” Mr Trump said in his first substantive remarks on the conflict since taking office last month.

“We will be working on it really, really diligently. But it is the parties themselves that must negotiate such an agreement.”

There is no alternative solution for the situation between the Palestinians and Israelis, other than the solution of establishing two states António Guterres, UN secretary-general

Mr Trump said the US was looking at a “new concept” that would involve other countries, echoing remarks by a White House official on Tuesday evening that suggested the US was abandoning the two-state paradigm.

“It is something that is very different, hasn’t been discussed before,” Mr Trump said. “It is a much bigger deal, much more important deal in that it takes in many countries and would cover a much larger territory.”

The two-state solution, under which a Palestinian state would be formed alongside Israel in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, has been a touchstone of US policy in the region since the signing of the Oslo accords in the early 1990s.

Earlier on Wednesday, the UN and Palestinian officials warned against abandoning a two-state solution after a White House official said Washington would no longer insist on the principle that has informed policymaking in the region for the past two decades.

António Guterres, UN secretary-general, said: “There is no alternative solution for the situation between the Palestinians and Israelis, other than the solution of establishing two states, and we should do all that can be done to maintain this.”

Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said a shift away from the two-state solution would be a “disaster” for Israelis and Palestinians. “We are willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with President Trump, with the EU, with countries around the world who are willing to maintain the two state solution,” Mr Erekat said. “We believe undermining the two-state solution is not a joke — it’s a disaster and a tragedy for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Mr Trump’s remarks are likely to fuel confusion in the region as to Washington’s approach to one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. The US president has named Jared Kushner, his property developer son-in-law, as a Middle East envoy with a brief to work towards a peace deal.  Officials in the Trump administration and rightwing politicians in Israel have spoken of addressing the conflict via a regional agreement that would broaden traditional bilateral talks and bring in other Arab states, an approach viewed with suspicion by many Palestinians.

In the wake of Mr Trump’s election victory, Israeli MPs have floated ideas including the annexation of large Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank and the creation of a Palestinian mini-state in Gaza and parts of Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

Mr Erekat scoffed at what he called “silly ideas” when asked about the latter proposal, saying: “Sinai is an Egyptian territory.”  He added that the alternative to a two-state solution would be “one secular state where Jews, Muslims and Christians will be equal”, and called on the world to stand by its principle of a Palestinian state on pre-1967 lines existing alongside Israel.

However, Naftali Bennett, head of Israel’s far-right, pro-settler Jewish Home party, hailed Mr Trump’s remarks as “new ideas” and the start of “a new era”. “No need for 3rd Palestinian state beyond Jordan & Gaza.” Mr Bennett, who is education secretary, said on Twitter. “Big day for Israelis & reasonable Arabs.”

One-State Solution, or Two? Trump’s ‘Happy With the One That Both Parties Like’

By Emily Tankin, The Cable, Foreign Policy
February 15, 2017

Speaking at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to scuttle long-standing U.S. support for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.

If “Bibi” and the Israelis and the Palestinians are all happy, “I am looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like… I can live with either one,” Trump said.

Abandoning the two-state solution would be a marked departure from bipartisan U.S. foreign policy of the past 15 years. The United States has explicitly supported the establishment of a two state solution since June of 2002, as former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro noted on Twitter.

Ahead of the meeting, Husam Zolot, strategic affairs advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Reuters, “The two-state solution is not something we just came up with. It is an international consensus and decision after decades of Israel’s rejection of the one-state democratic formula.”

Trump’s utterances prompted plenty of concern about the future of the Middle East peace process and Israel’s own future.

“The extreme right won tonight. The state of Israel has lost,” tweeted Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit.

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and once said to be in the running for a Trump State Department job, tweeted, “Maybe Pres Trump can live with a 1 state ‘solution’ but Israel could not if it wanted to remain democratic, Jewish, secure & prosperous.”

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres reiterated through the U.N. spokesperson’s Twitter account that “there is no plan B to a 2-state solution.”

Yousef Munayyer [L] of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights tweeted, “The question is no longer one state or two. It is clearly one state. Question now is what kind of one state: apartheid or equality.”

Trump may have spoken flippantly at the press conference, not intending to signal a sharp break with U.S. policy. But the statement was not inconsistent with his campaign, and administration officials told Reuters Tuesday that Trump could support a one-state solution, suggesting that the president did not improvise on Wednesday.

Netanyahu seemed nonplussed, and dismissed the semantics as a matter of “labels.” The prime minister said he is concerned more with substance: specifically, the substance of Palestinians recognizing Israel’s right to exist, and Israel maintaining security control over territory west of the Jordan River.

In response to Trump’s request to “hold off on settlements for a while” in pursuit of a peace deal, Netanyahu simply said, “We’ll try,” adding, “That’s the art of the deal.”

Later in the press conference, an Israeli journalist asked about the rise of antisemitic incidents in the United States since Trump’s election, and what the president would say to those who believe his administration is “playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones.”

In response, Trump noted that he won 306 electoral college votes and has a Jewish daughter, a Jewish son-in-law, and three Jewish grandchildren.

“We are going to do everything in our power to stop long simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on,” he said. “I think one of the reasons I got elected is because we have a very, very divided nation,” before concluding, “You’re going to see a lot of love.”

Trump steps back from U.S. commitment to two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution

By Anne Gearan and Ruth Eglash, Washington Post
February 15, 2017

President Trump backed away on Wednesday from long-standing U.S. support for the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel, potentially signaling the death of a fundamental strategy of past Middle East peace negotiations, even as Trump said he wants to try his hand at a new deal.

Trump appeared to open the negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their news conference at the White House, directly calling for Israel to curtail Jewish home-building in the West Bank.

In his most extensive remarks as president about the chances for peace in the Middle East, Trump said he “could live with” either a separate Palestinian state or a unitary state as a peaceful outcome.

“I want the one that both parties want,” he said.

That is a significant departure from past U.S. policy supporting the goal of an independent Palestine. Republican and Democratic presidents have backed a future Palestine on West Bank land that is now under Israeli military occupation. For years, U.S. officials have endorsed “two states for two peoples, living side by side in peace and security” as a matter of course.

“I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit,” Trump said as he welcomed Netanyahu for their first meeting since the Republican president took office. “We’ll work something out,” he added.

The new U.S. president confidently predicted that he will help broker an end to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I would like to see a deal be made. I think a deal will be made,” Trump said. “I know that every president would like to. Most of them have not started until late, because they never thought it was possible. And it wasn’t possible, because they didn’t do it.”

Trump gave no timetable for the larger effort but suggested it will come soon. He flattered Netanyahu but also pressured him.

“Bibi and I have known each other a long time,” Trump continued, using the Israeli leader’s nickname. “Smart man. Great negotiator. And I think we’re going to make a deal. It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand, so that’s a possibility.”

Then, with his body turned toward Netanyahu, Trump put him on the spot.

“So let’s see what we do,” Trump invited.

“Let’s try,” Netanyahu replied.

He did not look pleased, but Trump laughed it off.

“That doesn’t sound too optimistic,” Trump said. “Good negotiator.”

At that, Netanyahu brightened.

“That’s the art of the deal,” he said to laughter.

Both leaders seemed to indicate that what was once an accepted formula of two sovereign states is now open to a broader scope of ideas about what could bring about a peace deal. They each pointed to a regional approach that would involve a broad spectrum of Middle Eastern states and by default, eventually, the Palestinians.

“The Israelis are going to have to show some flexibility, which is hard, it’s hard to do,” Trump said. “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 we have a lot bigger canvas to play with.”

Netanyahu said that first the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the Jewish state and stop calling for its destruction. He insisted that Israel to retain security of the western banks of the Jordan River, a sliver of land that would allow Israel to encircle any future Palestinian state.

“I want to deal with substance, not labels. The world is fixated on labels and not on the substance,” Netanyahu said in response to a question about the future of two states. “But if anyone believes that I, as prime minister of Israel, responsible for the security of my country, would blindly walk into a Palestinian terrorist state that seeks the destruction of my country, they’re gravely mistaken.”

Netanyahu’s caution stems partly from his scepticism about a peace deal and partly from political pressure at home. The Israeli political far right, elements of which Netanyahu needs as part of his governing coalition, reportedly urged him to make no concessions in Washington and not to even utter the words “two-state solution.”

Although Trump did not reject the two-state idea, many Palestinians would view any U.S. shift away from it as a virtual abandonment of a principle also adopted by the European Union and the United Nations. The United States remains a part of the international negotiating body known as the Quartet, which is pledged to two states achieved through negotiations.

It is Israeli leaders and supporters of the Jewish settlements who are opposed to a Palestinian state.
Saeb Erekat

“We believe undermining the two state solution is not a joke, said Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian official and former peace negotiator. “It’s a disaster and a tragedy for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Erekat, a veteran of seven U.S.-brokered peace talks with Israel, said the Palestinian Authority remains committed to the two-state idea. He said it was the Israeli leaders and supporters of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank who were opposed to a Palestinian state.

CIA chief Mike Pompeo held secret talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank on Tuesday, according to a senior Palestinian official.

Erekat said the alternative to two states was “a single democratic secular state for Jews, Muslims and Christians,” with full rights for all. Such a single state, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, would hold almost equal numbers of Jewish and Muslim voters.

Palestinians in the West Bank live under an almost 50-year military occupation. In the separate Gaza Strip, the population lives under severe trade and travel controls.

“To those who think the current system today is acceptable, having one state with two systems — which is apartheid — I don’t think they can sustain it,” Erekat said. “Not in the 21st century.”

Netanyahu has warned that a new Palestinian state could quickly be taken over by the Islamist militant movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is committed to Israel’s destruction. Israel and Hamas have fought three years in the last nine years.

Netanyahu publicly backed the idea of two states for two peoples in 2009. It was partly a gesture to the then-new U.S. president, Barack Obama, but their relations quickly soured.

“All the cabinet ministers oppose a Palestinian state, including Netanyahu.”
Gilad Erdan

The last time Netanyahu ran for office in 2015, he promised voters a Palestinian state would never be created under his watch. He later walked the statement back.

The Israeli minister for public security and member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, Gilad Erdan, told Israel’s Army Radio earlier this week that “all the cabinet ministers oppose a Palestinian state, including Netanyahu.”

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, speaking in Cairo on Wednesday, warned, “There is no alternative solution for the situation between the Palestinians and Israelis, other than the solution of establishing two states, and we should do all that can be done to maintain this.”

The Trump-Netanyahu news conference, part of a nearly day-long White House visit, was the public face of a new chapter in U.S.-Israeli relations after the testiness and rancor of Netanyahu’s dealings with Obama. But there were hints of potential problems for Trump and Netanyahu, too, despite their friendship and Trump’s fiercely pro-Israel stance.

Trump’s insistence that a deal can be done, and his suggestion that he will move quickly to seek one, puts Netanyahu in the middle, between a powerful political constituency and his most important ally.

“If we work together, we have a shot,” he told Trump.

Trump was not more specific about settlements, which have become one of the main obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, but his administration had previously called on Israel not to expand existing settlement blocs. Trump has also said that he views expanded settlements as unhelpful as he tries to inaugurate a peace effort.

Speaking to Israeli journalists later on Wednesday, Netanyahu acknowledged that he and Trump do not see eye to eye on the settlement issue.

“We spoke about the settlements, and we agreed to continue talking about this issue in order to reach an agreement,” Netanyahu said.

Over the past few weeks, Netanyahu’s government has announced the creation of some 5,500 additional housing units within existing Israeli settlements, as well as the creation of a new settlement to soften the blow to a community the Israeli authorities were forced to raze on Feb. 2 after the Supreme Court ruled it had been built illegally on private Palestinian land.

Netanyahu said that the housing units would go ahead as planned but held back on saying whether an entirely new settlement would be created.

“There is always the question of what to do in the future, but we do not second-guess what has happened in the past,” he said.

At the news conference, Trump was asked about his campaign promise to quickly move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump said he supports the idea but is considering it “with great care.” Arab allies have urged Trump to slow down or cancel that pledge, for fear of inflaming anti-Israel sentiment and lessening Arab governments’ leverage over the Palestinians in a peace negotiation.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and close aide, sat in the front row during the news conference. Trump has said Kushner will be his chief envoy for a peace push. Trump’s choice for U.S. ambassador to Israel, New York lawyer David L. Friedman, is expected to be another main player in a U.S.-sponsored peace push. Friedman is a public supporter of West Bank settlements and has suggested the two-state option is no longer realistic.

William Booth contributed from Jericho, West Bank
Anne Gearan is a national politics correspondent for The Washington Post.
Ruth Eglash is a reporter for The Washington Post based in Jerusalem. She was formerly a reporter and senior editor at the Jerusalem Post and freelanced for international media. Follow @reglash

Palestinians Dismayed as U.S. Appears to Back Off Two-State Solution

By Ian Fisher, NY Times
February 15, 2017

GAZA CITY — Palestinians reacted with anger and bafflement on Wednesday after the Trump administration apparently backed away from insisting that having two states — one for Israelis, one for Palestinians — was the only viable solution to the decades-long Middle East conflict.

Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestinians, raised the spectre of “apartheid” and called for “concrete measures in order to save the two-state solution.”

A White House official, in remarks to reporters on the eve of President Trump’s meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Wednesday, said the Trump administration would not push the two-state solution, an apparent retreat from decades of American policy.

In his news conference with Mr. Netanyahu in Washington on Wednesday, Mr. Trump directly broke with diplomatic tradition on the issue by saying his concern was the “deal,” not whether that included a state for Palestinians.

“I’m looking at two states and one state,” Mr. Trump said. “I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”

Some Palestinians and Middle East experts reacted with alarm, saying that such a policy change would undercut the chances, already slim, of progress toward reconciliation between the two sides.

“This is going to give Israel a free hand to do what it wants,” said Mosheer A. Amer, an associate professor at the Islamic University here in Gaza City. “At least Obama had some control over Netanyahu.”

Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator and and secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said at a news conference in Jericho in the West Bank on Wednesday that he feared a new version of “apartheid” if the two-state peace plan were abandoned.  Photo by Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Israel captured and occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem 50 years ago, in 1967, and the status of the former Jordanian territories has been a source of conflict ever since. (So has the Gaza Strip, which had formerly been administered by Egypt.) Many Palestinian leaders, especially those in the West Bank, hold strongly that a two-state solution is the only acceptable resolution of the conflict.

There is also considerable diplomatic weight behind the goal of having two viable states living in peace side by side. In December, with the Obama administration’s tacit support, the United Nations condemned Israeli settlements on occupied land as obstacles to the two-state solution.

But lately the chances of achieving it have been dimming. Many Israelis and Palestinians have begun to doubt whether it is possible or even desirable.

Many Israelis argue that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are too divided among themselves to ever be able to permanently accept two states. Some in the Israeli right advocate annexing all or part of the West Bank, and some rightists warned Mr. Netanyahu not to raise the possibility of two states in his meeting with Mr. Trump.

At the same time, many Palestinians say the line has already been crossed — that Israeli settlements have already eliminated the possibility of creating a contiguous Palestinian state. Instead, they advocate a single state encompassing both Israel and the occupied territories — a secular state where Palestinians and Israelis would live together with equal rights.

At a news conference on Wednesday in the West Bank, Mr. Erekat said the only alternative to what he called Mr. Netanyahu’s “apartheid” vision was “one single secular and democratic state with equal rights for everyone, Christians, Muslims and Jews, on all of historic Palestine.”

That is opposed by many Israelis, who want Israel to remain a Jewish state.

Some Israelis say that the deep divisions between the Palestinian factions that control the West Bank and Gaza are another reason that it will be impossible to reach an agreement on two states. The Fatah faction in the West Bank has tried to cooperate with the Israeli authorities on some levels, while Hamas, the group that has controlled Gaza since 2007, is more actively hostile to Israel.

“The U.S. is never serious when it comes to Palestinians’ human rights.”

Hazim Kassim, a spokesman for Hamas, said on Wednesday, “What Trump said is new, but whatever he says, we in Hamas still believe that resistance is the only way to liberate our lands from the Israeli occupation.

“It is now clear that the U.S. has provided a cover for aggression, occupation and the confiscation of Palestinian land,” he continued. “The U.S. is never serious when it comes to Palestinians’ human rights.”

Majd Al-Waheidi contributed reporting.

End of the two-state solution? What Israel, Palestinians would be giving up

President Trump said he was not insisting on a two-state solution for Middle East peace. Palestinians and Israelis view the one-state option very differently.

By Joel Greenberg, Christian Science Monitor
February 16, 2017

JERUSALEM—When President Trump dropped the longstanding American insistence on the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, he veered away from the two-state premise that has been at the core of Middle East peace efforts for decades.

The idea of dividing the land shared by Israelis and Palestinians goes back to 1947. That’s when the United Nations voted to partition British-ruled Palestine, creating a Jewish and an Arab state, a plan the Jews accepted and the Arab states did not.

For more modern proponents of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the model enshrined the principle of trading “land for peace.” It promised two essential ingredients that sought to satisfy the basic needs of the two peoples: political self-determination for the Palestinians in their own independent state, and recognized borders for Israel that would be accepted by its Arab neighbours.

The goal of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip became American policy after the 1993 Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The two-state objective was first enunciated by President Bill Clinton in 2001, adopted as official policy by his successor, George W. Bush, and was a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s peace efforts.

Mr. Trump upended all that on Wednesday when he said he was “looking at two-state and one-state” options, and would be “very happy with the one that both parties like.” He spoke before meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who pointedly avoided mention of the two-state solution.

As repeated efforts to broker a two-state deal have foundered, some Israelis and Palestinians have spoken of an irreversible reality on the ground in which, they argue, Jewish settlements scattered across the West Bank and a half century of Israeli control have doomed a territorial compromise.

But a one-state reality carries its own perils, critics of the idea say.

“A one-state solution is the end of Zionism,” says Shlomo Avineri, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Zionism is about a Jewish national state, not a binational state.”

An Israeli state that includes the Palestinians could deny them equal rights and lose its Jewish majority to a faster-growing Arab population, according to the critics.

“Only the two-state solution will preserve Israel as both democratic and Jewish,” says Avi Buskila, head of Peace Now, an Israeli group that opposes Jewish settlement in the West Bank and backs a Palestinian state.

In a single Israeli state “either the Palestinians would not have equal rights and it would be an apartheid state, or they could have equality and become the majority, meaning it would no longer be Jewish.”

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, says jettisoning the two-state solution would be a “disaster for both Palestinians and Israelis.”

The only alternative is “one democratic state of Jews, Christians, and Muslims living in one state as equal citizens in one country,” Mr. Erekat says. “Netanyahu’s scheme of trying to impose one state with two systems, an apartheid regime, is not doable in the 21st century.”

A “secular democratic state” in the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea was a longtime goal of the PLO before it accepted a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and recognized Israel.

“Our understanding of one state would be a democracy with equal rights in which I could become president or prime minister of Israel,” says Mustafa Barghouti, a prominent Palestinian legislator and activist. “If this state is truly a democracy it cannot be Jewish, it will be a joint state. I would love to go back to one democratic state in which Palestinians can live in [the Israeli cities] of Jaffa and Haifa. But a one-state solution for Netanyahu would be nothing but consolidation of a full apartheid system in all the area of Palestine.”

In his remarks before meeting Trump, Mr. Netanyahu said Israel would have to maintain security control over the entire West Bank in any future peace deal, and he asserted that he would not agree to a Palestinian “terrorist” state on Israel’s borders.

Israeli rightists welcomed what they saw as Trump’s step away from a two-state solution.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of the staunchly pro-settlement Jewish Home party, told Israel Radio last Thursday that the president’s position was “a very significant and important change from the entrenched thinking of the last 20 years.”

“You can see that President Trump is open to new ideas,” she added, asserting that her party would press for annexation to Israel of some 60 percent of the West Bank that remains under full Israeli control, while granting the Palestinians “autonomy” in other areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu and Trump spoke about efforts to involve Arab states in a regional effort to broker a peace deal, countries that Netanyahu has said share with Israel a common concern about growing Iranian influence in the Middle East.

Professor Avineri calls that vision unrealistic, arguing that no Arab détente with Israel can be expected before an agreement with the Palestinians. “This was really a flabbergasting example of Trump’s ignorance about the Middle East,” he says.

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