Mid-East policy: Trump aides add to confusion

Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu, with Mrs Sara Netanyahu (at left) and Mrs Melania Trump at the White House on Wednesday. Conservatives in Israel hailed Mr Trump's talk of a one-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu, with Mrs Sara Netanyahu (at left) and Mrs Melania Trump at the White House on Wednesday. Conservatives in Israel hailed Mr Trump's talk of a one-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Advisers say US backs two-state solution, a day after President opens way for single state

WASHINGTON • A day after US President Donald Trump said he is not wedded to a "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, two of his leading advisers said they would be happy if that long-frustrated United States goal could still be reached.

While the statements were not in conflict with Mr Trump's remarks alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Wednesday, they added to confusion about Middle East policy in the new US administration.

Said Mr David Friedman, Mr Trump's choice as US Ambassador to Israel, during his confirmation hearing on Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "A two-state solution, if it could be achieved, would bring tremendous benefit to both Israel and the Palestinians.

"I've expressed my scepticism on the basis of Palestinians' inability to renounce terror and accept Israel as a Jewish state."

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley echoed that theme in New York, saying the US still supports a two-state solution but Mr Trump is looking for fresh ideas and "thinking outside the box". She said the President was asking: "What does it take to bring these two sides to the table?"

At a joint news conference with Mr Netanyahu, Mr Trump opened the way for a single state, to cheers from conservatives in Israel and denunciations from Palestinians.

"I like the one that both parties like," Mr Trump said. "I can live with either one. I thought for a while that two states looked like the easier of the two. If Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I like the one they like the best."

US allies seemed surprised by the apparent softening in US demands for a two-state solution. Its position is "confused and worrisome", French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said after meeting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday, according to Les Echos.

Britain's view "is that the best way to achieve peace in the Middle East is through the two-state solution", said Mr Matthew Rycroft, the British envoy to the UN.

Mr Friedman has led an organisation that raises several million dollars a year for a religious school in the controversial West Bank settlement of Beit El, but he said he did not support an Israeli annexation of the territory, which has long been considered the future home of a Palestinian state.

Mr Trump had, on Wednesday, urged Mr Netanyahu to "hold off" on expanding settlements in the West Bank.

Still, Mr Friedman was not able to avoid criticism for his disparaging comments against former president Barack Obama for supporting the Iran nuclear deal, as well as his remarks on J Street, a Jewish-American group frequently critical of Mr Netanyahu's government.

Mr Friedman had at one point likened J Street to Jews who oversaw fellow concentration camp prisoners under the Nazis during World War II. He promised to be more diplomatic in his dealings as an ambassador.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2017, with the headline 'Mid-East policy: Trump aides add to confusion'. Print Edition | Subscribe