Two-state solution not a condition for Mid-East deal: Trump aide

US President Donald Trump (right) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, US, on Feb 15, 2017.
US President Donald Trump (right) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, US, on Feb 15, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump will not centre his Israel-Palestinian policy goals on achieving a two-state solution to the conflict, a senior White House official said, signalling a shift from a longstanding US position that has underpinned years of unsuccessful peace talks.

Briefing reporters ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit today to the White House, the official said the President believes that whether peace comes in the form of Palestinian statehood is something both sides must agree to.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview the meeting, said it is Mr Trump's view that it is not for the United States to impose its vision for the terms of a peace deal. The official also said that a two-state solution without peace is not worthwhile.

Mr Netanyahu is trying to recalibrate ties with Israel's top ally after eight years of high-profile clashes with former president Barack Obama, in part over Israel's policies towards the Palestinians.

He sees a chance for a warmer relationship with Mr Trump, who shares his alarm over the Iran nuclear deal and Islamic extremists.

Mr Trump's position that peace is not dependent on creating two separate nations in the Holy Land could provide political cover to the Israeli leader, who faces challenges from members of his governing coalition who oppose Palestinian statehood.

It also could be seen as a seismic shift in US policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has resisted resolution after more than two decades of negotiations.

"It is certainly a big deal politically in the sense that it's one of the strongest ways the Trump administration can communicate it is reversing the attitude of the Obama administration, which was zealously committed to the mantra of the two-state solution," said Mr Nathan Diament, executive director of the Orthodox Union, an organisation that serves the North American Jewish community.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry called on Mr Trump to preserve the vision of a two-state solution.

The White House official's comments, if accurately reported, "signal a dangerous shift in the American position and its view on how to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict", the ministry said in a statement. "We will form an international front to preserve the two-state solution as the best option as seen by a majority of the international community."

Yesterday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also warned against abandoning the idea of a two-state solution to the conflict. "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," Mr Guterres said.

Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu were expected to meet to discuss Iran, Israeli settlement expansion, a possible US embassy move to Jerusalem, and steps to address a UN Security Council resolution that condemns Israeli settlements.

The White House has sent mixed messages on settlements - saying existing ones are not an obstacle to peace but that new construction is unhelpful.

It also seems in no hurry to fulfil a campaign pledge to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a measure likely to anger Palestinians and Muslims elsewhere.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2017, with the headline 'Two-state solution not a condition for Mid-East deal: Trump aide'. Print Edition | Subscribe