For the first time since taking office, President Donald Trump endorsed a two-state solution as the best way to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, as he met Wednesday at the U.N. with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Trump told reporters that he believes that two states — Israel and one for the Palestinians — “works best.” He has previously been vague on the topic, suggesting that he would support whatever the parties might agree to, including possibly a one-state resolution, which might see the Palestinian territories become part of Israel.
“I like (a) two-state solution,” Trump said as he posed for photographs with Netanyahu. “That’s what I think works best. That’s my feeling. Now you may have a different feeling. I don’t think so. But I think two-state solution works best.”
The president added that his much anticipated but still unreleased Mideast peace plan, in part helmed by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, could be presented in the next two to four months but was not specific as to timing.
The two-state “solution” is mostly aspirational. Ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinians over the division of territory, borders and governance has spawned violence going back years and long stymied Mideast peace efforts.
Trump has been heavily criticized by the Palestinians for a series of moves that they say show distinct bias toward Israel, starting with his recognition last year of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestinians also claim the holy city as the capital of an eventual state. Earlier this year, Trump followed up on the recognition by moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a step that was widely protested by Palestinians and others in the Arab world.
His administration has also slashed aid to the Palestinians by hundreds of millions of dollars and ended U.S. support for the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees.
Trump and his national security team have defended their position, saying that decades of attempts to forge Israeli-Palestinian peace have failed.
He said Wednesday that the embassy move would actually help peace efforts by recognizing the reality that Israel identifies Jerusalem as its capital. But, he added that Israel would have to make concessions to the Palestinians in any negotiations.
“Israel got the first chip and it’s a big one,” Trump said. “By taking off the table the embassy moving to Jerusalem, that was always the primary ingredient as to why deals couldn’t get done. Now that’s off the table. Now, that will also mean that Israel will have to do something that is good for the other side.”
Netanyahu thanked Trump for his support, his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and said U.S.-Israel relations have never been better than under his administration. On Tuesday, Trump attacked Iran in his annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, accusing its leaders of corruption and spreading chaos throughout the Middle East and beyond. He also vowed to continue to impose sanctions on Iran.
“Thank you for your strong words yesterday in the General Assembly against the corrupt terrorist regime in Iran,” Netanyahu said. “They back up your strong words and strong actions.”
I think the US-Israel alliance has never been stronger. It's stronger than ever under your leadership. I look forward to working with you and your team to advance our common interests: security, prosperity & peace with Israel's neighbors and the region. And we can do it with you pic.twitter.com/Hq54esTvRh
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) September 26, 2018
The Palestinians reacted cautiously to Trump’s remarks, noting that a two-state solution has long been the goal of peace efforts, including a broader Arab-Israeli plan that would see Arab states all recognize Israel if the Palestinians got an independent state.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians remain committed to their demand for a state based on the borders before the 1967 Mideast war and with East Jerusalem as its capital.
“Peace requires a two-state solution, where the state of Palestine is based on the ’67 boundaries with East Jerusalem as its capital,” he said. “This is the Arab and international attitude, and all final status issues need to be solved according to the international resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.”
The high-profile meeting came a day after Trump poured scorn on the “ideology of globalism” and heaped praise on his own administration’s achievements in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly that drew head shakes and even mocking laughter from his audience of fellow world leaders.
“The U.S. will not tell you how to live and work or worship,” Trump said as he unapologetically promoted his “America First” agenda. “We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return.”
Speaking in triumphal terms, Trump approached his address to the world body as something of an annual report to the world on his country’s progress since his inauguration. He showcased strong economic numbers, declared that the U.S. military is “more powerful than it has ever been before” and crowed that in “less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.”
Just sentences into the president’s remarks, the audience began to chuckle and some leaders broke into outright laughter, suggesting the one-time reality television star’s puffery is as familiar abroad as it is at home. Trump appeared briefly flustered, then smiled and said it was not the reaction he expected “but that’s all right.”
Later he brushed off the episode, telling reporters, “Oh it was great. Well, that was meant to get some laughter so it was great.”
The leaders’ spontaneous response to Trump’s address only reinforced the American president’s isolation among allies and foes alike, as his nationalistic policies have created rifts with erstwhile partners and cast doubt in some circles about the reliability of American commitments around the world.
The laughter evoked a campaign line Trump frequently deployed against his predecessor Barack Obama — who embraced international engagement — suggesting that due to weak American leadership, “the world is laughing at us.”
In 2014, Trump tweeted, “We need a President who isn’t a laughingstock to the entire World. We need a truly great leader, a genius at strategy and winning. Respect!”
The General Assembly is four days of choreographed foreign affairs were designed to stand in contrast to a presidency sometimes defined by disorder, but they were quickly overshadowed by domestic political crises.
The fate of his second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, was in fresh doubt after a second allegation of sexual misconduct, which Kavanaugh denies. Kavanaugh and his first accuser testify to Congress on Thursday.
Drama also swirls around the job security of Trump’s deputy attorney general. Rod Rosenstein was reported last week to have floated the idea of secretly recording the president last year and to have raised the idea of using the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. He will meet with Trump at the White House, also on Thursday.