JERICHO, West Bank — Palestinian officials pleaded with the White House on Wednesday not to abandon the two-state solution for a possible peace deal with Israel, as President Trump signaled he could “live with” other outcomes.
The Palestinian leadership appeared stunned that a Trump official told reporters in Washington late Tuesday that the White House was open to a new approach that does not emphasize two states — one for Israelis and one for Palestinians, living side by side, as previous administrations have.
At a White House news conference on Wednesday, Trump said he had once believed the two-state solution was the “easier of the two” options, but he said the United States could embrace alternatives, if Israel and the Palestinians agreed.
“I am looking at two states or one state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said.
The comments came during the first face-to-face talks between Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since the November election. It also followed disclosures that CIA chief Mike Pompeo held secret talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank on Tuesday, according to a senior Palestinian official.
Netanyahu has been under pressure by his right-wing governing coalition to abandon the two-state solution, which he formally backed in 2009. Trump’s position on the two-state paradigm has not been clear — and still remains fuzzy.
“It’s something the two sides have to agree to. It’s not for us to impose that vision,” a Trump official said Tuesday. “A two-state solution that doesn’t bring peace is not our goal,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the potential U.S. policy change.
Many Palestinians would view such a shift as an abandonment of a principle adopted by preceding U.S. administrations, both Republican and Democratic, as well as the European Union and the United Nations.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Trump cautioned that the Israelis “are going to have to show some flexibility, which is hard, it’s hard to do.”
Trump advised that Netanyahu “hold back on settlements for a bit.” He added, “We’ll work something out.”
Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian official and former peace negotiator, said: “We believe undermining the two state solution is not a joke. It’s a disaster and a tragedy for Israelis and Palestinians.”
Erekat, a veteran of seven U.S.-brokered peace talks with Israel, said the Palestinian Authority remains committed to the two-state goals.
He said it was the Israeli leaders and supporters of the 600,000 Israelis living in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem who were opposed to a Palestinian state.
Erekat said the alternative to the two state vision was “a single democratic secular state for Jews, Muslims and Christians,” with full rights for all. Such a single state, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, would hold almost equal numbers of Jewish and Muslim voters. Israelis and American supporters of Israel fear that a single state would either undermine the democratic or Jewish nature of Israel.
Today, Palestinians in the West Bank live under an almost 50-year military occupation. In the Gaza Strip, the population lives under severe trade and travel controls.
“To those who think the current system is acceptable, having one state with two systems, this is apartheid,” said Erekat. “I don’t think they can sustain it, not in the 21st century.”
Netanyahu has argued in the past that while Israel remains committed in theory to the idea of two states, now is not the time. The Palestinian leadership is weak and rejectionist, he said. “There’s no partner for peace,” Netanyahu said.
In Washington, Netanyahu restated his claims that no peace talks are possible until Palestinians agree to accords that Israel believes are essential for its safety, including giving Israeli security forces a continued presence in the West Bank.
Netanyahu has warned that a new Palestinian state could quickly by taken over the Islamist militant movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is committed to Israel’s destruction. Israel and Hamas have fought three years in the last nine years.
The last time Netanyahu ran for office in 2015, he promised voters a Palestinian state would never be created under his watch. He later walked the statement back.
The Israeli minister for public security and member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, Gilad Erdan told Israel’s Army Radio earlier this week that “all the cabinet ministers oppose a Palestinian state, including Netanyahu.”
The two-state solution has often been declared moribund. But most of the world continues to think it is the region’s best chance for Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace.
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, speaking in Cairo on Wednesday, warned, “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.”