‘Hold off’ on settlements, Trump tells Netanyahu
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US President Donald Trump on Wednesday asked Israel's prime minister to "hold off" on building settlements on land the Palestinians claim for their future state, yet held back from explicitly endorsing a future Palestinian state.
After weeks of dancing around the issue of expanded Israeli settlements, Trump made the request to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference at the White House preceding their private discussions. It is Netanyahu's first trip to Washington since Trump became president.
Speaking at a joint news conference, Trump vowed to work toward a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians but said it would require compromise on both sides and it would be up to the parties themselves ultimately to reach an agreement.
"I'd like to see you pull back on settlements for a little bit," Trump told Netanyahu. The right-wing Israeli leader later insisted that Jewish settlements were "not the core of the
conflict" and made no commitment to reduce settlement building.
While Trump's call echoed that of past US presidents, who've considered Israeli housing construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank an obstacle to a Mideast peace deal, the American leader broke with his predecessors on the idea of a two-state agreement. While such an accord may have once appeared to be the "easier of the two" options, Trump said he'd be open to alternatives if the two sides propose something better.
But the US leader offered no details or clarifications of his position. Giving a convoluted response to a question on whether he backed a two-state solution, he suggested that he could abide by whatever the two parties decided.
"I'm looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I'm very happy with the one that both parties like," he said.
No clarity on moving US Embassy to Jerusalem
Setting a congenial tone for the visit, Trump greeted Netanyahu earlier Wednesday on a red carpet rolled out to the White House driveway. The two leaders smiled, shook hands and chatted amiably before heading inside the executive mansion, accompanied by US First Lady Melania Trump and Netanyahu's wife, Sara.
The two leaders were to discuss peace efforts as well as Iran and Trump's campaign pledge to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Relocating the embassy would signal American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a move that would infuriate the Palestinians. They claim the eastern sector of the city, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as their capital.
Trump said Wednesday he'd like to see the embassy moved but that he is studying the issue closely.
American presidents have struck a delicate balance in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stressing the close US friendship with Israel and lavishing the Jewish state with bountiful aid. But recent presidents have also called out Israel for actions seen as undermining peace efforts, such as expanding settlements.
On Tuesday, a senior White House official told the Associated Press that Trump is eager to begin facilitating a peace deal between the two sides and hopes to bring them together soon.
It will be up to the Israelis and Palestinians to determine what peace will entail, said the official, who was not authorised to publicly discuss the leaders' session before it took place and spoke on condition of anonymity. Peace, not a two-state solution, is the goal, the official said.
State Department officials said they were not aware of any policy shift on the desirability of an agreement establishing an independent Palestine side-by-side with Israel - long the bedrock of US policy in the region.
Excellent meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The US-Israel alliance has always been strong, and it's about to get stronger. pic.twitter.com/bGs2aNyuxJ— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) February 15, 2017
Three officials said the department was seeking clarification from the White House's comments, which came as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was having dinner with Netanyahu on Tuesday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)