For the first time since taking office, President Donald Trump clearly and repeatedly endorsed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the United Nations General Assembly, Trump was asked whether his administration would abide by the two-state solution.
“I like the two-state solution. I like the two-state solution,” Trump said.
Pressed again on the same point, Trump said, “You just heard me, right? OK.”
“I like the two-state solution. Yeah. That’s, what I think, that’s what I think works best. I don’t even have to speak to anybody. That’s my feeling. Now you may have a different feeling. I don’t think so, but I think two-state solution works best.”
Sitting only feet from Trump, Netanyahu stayed silent during the exchange. The Israeli leader has not endorsed a two-state solution since Trump took office – and that wasn’t about to change.
Similarly, when Trump said Israel “will have to do something that will be good for the other side,” in exchange for Trump recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the embassy, Netanyahu said not a word.
It’s the second time Trump has said Israel will have to give something up for the embassy move, though he has not offered details as to what that may be.
At a press conference later in the day, Trump said once again that he supports a two-state solution, but added: I think the two-state [solution] will happen, I think it’s one way more difficult because it’s a real estate deal, because you need meets and bounds and you need lots of carve outs and lots of everything.”
He added a second slight hedge.
“Now bottom line, if the Israelis and the Palestinians want one state – that’s OK with me. If they want two states, that’s OK with me. I’m happy if they’re happy,” he said.
Trump’s sudden endorsement of a two-state solution – the international consensus on the only possible end to the conflict and US policy for decades – made front-page headlines in Israel, with one daily newspaper calling it “The Surprise of Trump.”
But does Trump’s statement – spontaneous though it may have been in response to a reporter’s question – mean anything?
Trump’s Middle East peace plan is one of the best-kept and most-anticipated secrets in Washington. It’s the “ultimate deal,” as Trump has called it in his approach to one of the most intractable conflicts in the world.
Despite all the critics who have said Trump has no shot at securing peace, he has been supremely confident in his team’s ability to put forward a successful proposal.
But from the beginning, Trump has offered only ambiguous statements about his vision for a peace plan and a solution to the decades-old conflict.
When Netanyahu first visited the Trump White House in February 2017, Trump said of a peace plan: “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.”
Trump’s apparently casual comments dumped decades of US foreign policy and rejected the international consensus on the only possible resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His comments prompted UN Secretary-General Antontio Guterres to say, “There is no Plan B to the situation between Palestinians and Israelis but a two-state solution and that everything must be done to preserve that possibility.”
Now, Trump’s updated answer at the UN General Assembly may have added some clarity to his plan. But it hasn’t shifted the position of the Israelis or Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition isn’t built to handle negotiations with the Palestinians or concessions in a peace process. His education minister and head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, said on social media: “The American President is a true friend of Israel. Together with this, it’s important to say that as long as the Jewish Home is in the government there will not be a Palestinian state established.”
One of Netanyahu’s closest allies in his party, Tzachi Hanegbi, said on Israel Army Radio on Thursday morning that “There will not be a state in the classic form,” suggesting a relationship more akin to the United States and its territory, Puerto Rico.
In a briefing to reporters after meeting with Trump, Netanyahu demurred from a two-state solution once again, according to Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz. “Everyone defines the term ‘state’ differently,” Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as saying.
Trump’s policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has vacillated between pro-Israel and very pro-Israel. Breaking with decades of US foreign policy, he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moved the US embassy to Jerusalem and firmly backed Israel at the United Nations.
On top of that, he cut more than $500 million in aid to the Palestinians and UNRWA, the UN agency in charge of Palestinians, revoked the visas of the Palestinian representative to the US and his family, and closed the PLO office in Washington.
Trump is equally loved by Israelis and loathed by Palestinians.
And all of this makes his sudden endorsement of a two-state solution that much more surprising.
The Palestinian Authority cut ties with the Trump administration months ago when Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But the American president said he “100%” expects Palestinians to come back to the negotiating table. “They’re absolutely coming back to the table. And they want to come back to the table.”
Trump’s confidence hasn’t shifted the Palestinian position at all.
On the sidelines of the UNGA, Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad al-Malki accused the Trump administration of waging diplomatic war against the Palestinians.
“The current American administration has waged an open war against the Palestinian people. We did not look for any confrontation, to the contrary, we were looking for a dialogue and we were fully engaged in such dialogue during 2017, to find out that after all these efforts from outside four meetings with President Trump more than 40 meetings with his special peace envoys to discover that they have opted to open that war against the Palestinians.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a PLO executive committee member, was more blunt, saying on Twitter, “‘One-state/two-state/whatever’ is not policy!” She accused Trump of “pandering to extremist Zionist evangelicals,” donors, lobbyists, and Netanyahu himself.
Officials in the Trump administration have said their peace plan is almost finalized and Trump predicted the proposal would be put forward within two to four months.
Many Israelis expect an election in that time frame, adding another delay into the plan. But Trump’s open endorsement of a two-state solution doesn’t seem to have changed its chances of success.