WASHINGTON — Meeting with President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a “regional approach” to making peace with the Palestinians and other Arab countries in the Middle East.
At a White House news conference Wednesday, Feb. 15, with Trump, Netanyahu said it was one of the new approaches he was looking at to achieve peace.
“I believe the great opportunity for peace comes from a regional approach, from involving our newfound Arab partners in the pursuit of a broader peace,” Netanyahu said prior to a scheduled lunch and private meeting with the president, as well as a meeting with their staffs.
Trump said at the beginning of his remarks that he will “do more to prevent Iran from ever developing, I mean ever, a nuclear weapon,” and lauded the US and Israel’s shared “value of all human life.”
Netanyahu praised Trump for challenging Iran on its violations of the nuclear deal, saying the president has “shown great clarity and courage in meeting this challenge head on.”
Later, he said in indirect criticism of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, “I think it is long overdue.”
Trump appeared taken aback by Netanyahu’s mention of the regional approach, adding that “we” had been discussing the possibility for awhile and that it would “take in many, many countries.”
“I didn’t know you were going to be mentioning it, but now that you did, it’s a terrific thing,” Trump said.
A “regional” approach posits that in place of or in addition to direct talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the sides would seek help from neighboring Arab states to create an opening for peace.
In recent weeks the Trump administration has been suggesting it might emphasize this approach, even as it said a two-state solution was not a necessary outcome of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Trump said the Israelis and Palestinians would both have to make compromises to achieve peace, adding as an aside to the prime minister, “You know that, don’t you?”
Netanyahu responded: “Both sides, we’ll talk.”
Trump said both sides would have to “show some flexibility” and “show that they are willing to make a deal.” He also said he would like to see Israel “hold back on settlements a little bit,” but added “we’re gonna make a deal.”
Earlier this month, the White House surprised many observers by saying settlement expansion “may not be helpful” in achieving peace, tacking closer to the policies of Trump’s immediate predecessors than he indicated he would during the campaign.
Asked whether he favors a two-state solution or one state, Trump responded, “I like the one the two parties like . . . I can live with either one.”
Netanyahu said his views have not changed since his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University in which he announced his support for a Palestinian state, but that “labels” have overshadowed the “substance” of a peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
He said a peace deal must include Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state and measures to assure Israel’s security, including security control over the area west of the Jordan River.
At the beginning of his remarks, Trump called Israel “the symbol to the world of resilience in the face or oppression” and “survival in the face of genocide,” in an apparent reference to the White House statement last month for International Holocaust Remembrance Day that did not mention Jews specifically.
Asked by an Israeli reporter about the rise in anti-Semitic incidents during and after his campaign and whether his campaign bears some responsibility for a rise in “xenophobia,” Trump pivoted to boast about the size of his Electoral College victory in the election, and that “we are going to do everything in our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that is going on.”
Trump promised that “you guys are going to see a lot of love,” and acknowledged his Jewish daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner sat in the front row of the news conference with Trump’s wife, Melania, and Sara Netanyahu, the wife of the prime minister.
The news conference ended with Netanyahu saying of Trump “there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.”
Palestinian officials slammed Trump for breaking from decades of US policy supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
One unnamed official told Israel Radio on Wednesday, after Trump at his news conference with Netanyahu said he “can live” with either a one- or two-state solution, that the president’s words were “the biggest disaster it was possible to hear from the American president.”
The official also said that no regional approach to the Arab-Israel conflict will be successful without a solution for the Palestinians.
The Palestinian official told Israel Radio: “What’s this two state or one state? Why not five states already? This is worthless talk.”
He added that the Israeli prime minister is not the only player in the region and that Trump should also listen to the Palestinians’ opinion on the issue.
“If Trump would like to be in touch with us, we are here and not going anywhere,” he said.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the PLO, responded to Trump’s remarks in a statement.
“If the Trump administration rejects this policy, it would be destroying the chances for peace and undermining American interests, standing and credibility abroad,” Ashrawi said.
“Accommodating the most extreme and irresponsible elements in Israel and in the White House is no way to make responsible foreign policy.”
Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ahmad Tibi, deputy speaker of the Knesset, told CNN in an interview following the news conference that if a one-state solution gives Palestinians the vote, he will run for prime minister and win.
He also said that a solution other than two states “could lead to violence.”
Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog, head of the Zionist Union coalition, called it “sad and shameful” to see Netanyahu “twisting and turning just to avoid the idea of separating from the Palestinians in the form of two states.”
“Every Israeli should be concerned tonight about the very concept of one state between the sea to the Jordan, which means no Jewish state. This is a very dangerous disaster and we will fight it in every way possible,” Herzog said.
Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, celebrated Trump’s backing away from a two-state solution.
“A new era. After 24 years, the Palestinian flag is lowered and the Israeli flag is put in its place,” Bennett wrote on his Hebrew-language Facebook page.
On his English language page he posted:
“A new era.New ideas.No need for 3rd Palestinian state beyond Jordan & Gaza.Big day for Israelis & reasonable Arabs.Congrats.”
Following the meeting, Netanyahu tweeted: “@realDonaldTrump, thanks very much for the warm welcome. Israel has no better friend than the US; the US has no better friend than Israel.”