The Straits Times says

Seeking lasting Middle East peace

After many a wink and a nod by Mr Donald Trump in the direction of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while campaigning for the United States presidency, the American leader has ruffled feathers yet again. Mr Trump appeared to drop US commitment to a two-state policy that would see separate states of Israel and Palestine existing side by side. At a press conference with the visiting Mr Netanyahu, Mr Trump said he would back a single-state solution if the disputing parties agreed since "I can live with either one". Additionally, he was considering moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, angering Palestinians who want their capital to be East Jerusalem, now under Israeli occupation.

Unequivocal American commitment to a two-state solution has stood since 2001, when President George W. Bush occupied the White House. While Mr Trump's remarks were made off the cuff and not part of the prepared text, they nevertheless garnered much attention. It is notable that while he has reeled back on his stated intention to move the US Embassy - and earlier, moderated his disdain for the longstanding "One China" policy - there has not been much attempt to explain away the one-state comment. His spinmeisters said it was just an attempt to think out of the box. But if that was so, why did he not ask Israel to stop its controversial policy of building settlements on the West Bank?

The seeds of the Israeli-Palestine dispute lie deep in the histories of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths. But its modern dimensions came with the birth of the State of Israel in 1948 and the new state's subsequent occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1967. Along with the Kashmir issue, this has been the other most intractable conflict of the modern era.

It has been hard enough getting the Arab world to countenance a two-state solution that would recognise the right of Israel to exist. As the Jewish state's principal backer, the Americans ought to leave well alone and not worsen a bad situation. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres correctly pointed out there is "no alternative, other than the solution of establishing two states and we should do all that can be done to maintain this" .

Israel's friends around the world would like to see a more balanced and accommodative stance emerging from Tel Aviv - one that balances the fair interests of all parties concerned. Israeli nationalists are on firm ground when they demand recognition of the Jewish state. But they are not when they insist that Israel must retain overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River. That would mean that a future Palestinian state would be under Israeli control. Any such agreement would hardly be durable, given the troubled history of the conflict. What the world needs is enduring stability in the region.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2017, with the headline 'Seeking lasting Middle East peace'. Print Edition | Subscribe