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US-Israel: is Trump backing away from a two-state deal?

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By Catherine Hardy  with Reuters, BBC
US-Israel: is Trump backing away from a two-state deal?

  • Trump and Netanyahu hold first White House talks
  • Trump talked of “major new deal” on Middle East peace
  • Asked Israel to “hold back” on settlement building
  • Says he is “happy with either” a two-or-one state solution
  • Netanyahu urged Palestinians to recognise the state of Israel and give security guarantees

Donald Trump has pledged to work to deliver “really a great peace deal” between Israel and the Palestinians.

Speaking as he welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House, the US president told both sides they would have to make compromises.

He also asked his Israeli counterpart to “hold back on settlements for a little bit”.

When asked whether he preferred a one or two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Mr Trump replied “I can live with either”.

Observers say the talks are critical for clarity on future US policy regarding Israel.

The two-state solution

The idea of creating a Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel has been a bedrock US position for decades.

However, the last negotiations broke down in 2014.

Indicating a potential policy shift, a senior White House official said on Tuesday that peace does not necessarily have to entail Palestinian statehood.

Donald Trump will not try to “dictate a position”, the official added.

What the Palestinians say

Just before Trump and Netanyahu met, a senior Palestinian official revealed that CIA director Mike Pompeo held talks with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday in Ramallah.

“It was the first official meeting with a high-profile member of the American administration since Trump took office,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity and not disclosing details of the discussion.

Husam Zomlot, a strategic adviser to Abbas, said the Palestinians have not received any official indication of a change in the US stance.

However, Palestinians reacted with alarm to the possibility that Washington might ditch its support for an independent Palestinian state.

“If the Trump administration rejects this policy, it would be destroying the chances for peace and undermining American interests, standing and credibility abroad,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

“Accommodating the most extreme and irresponsible elements in Israel and in the White House is no way to make responsible foreign policy,” she added in a statement.

What has Netanyahu said?

Netanyahu committed, with conditions, to the two-state goal in a speech in 2009.

He has broadly reiterated the aim since.

However, 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.

The Trump talks will be an opportunity to reset ties after a frequently combative relationship with Barack Obama.

Israeli officials say they want no gaps to emerge between US and Israeli thinking during the scheduled meeting.

What has Trump said?

Trump’s rhetoric was relentlessly pro-Israel during last year’s election campaign.

He promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, backed the ardent settlement supporter David Friedman as his Israeli envoy and saying he would not put pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians.

He has since toned down his rhetoric.

Trump also appears to have put the embassy move on the back-burner.

There were warnings about the potential for regional unrest.

What about the settlements?

The White House has said building new ones or expanding existing ones beyond their current borders would not be helpful to peace.

Analysts are interpreting this as leaving Israel room to build within existing settlements without drawing US condemnation.

This is the kind of grey area the talks are expected to touch on.

For the Palestinians, and much of the wider world, settlements built on occupied land are illegal under international law.

Israel disputes this but faces increasing criticism from allies.

This has increased after Netanyahu’s recent announcement of plans to build 6,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.