President Donald Trump on Wednesday directly asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to slow the building of settlements in the West Bank and said he was confident the two nations could come to a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Trump and Netanyahu addressed reporters at a press conference before the two met privately at the White House. A reporter asked whether Trump and Netanyahu were on the same page regarding settlements.
“As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit,” Trump said while turning toward Netanyahu. “We’ll work something out, but I would like to see a deal be made. I think a deal will be made.”
In an answer full of twists and turns, Trump wavered on a US commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying it “looked like it will be the easier of the two” but that he could “live with” a one-state solution.
But he said he thought he could accomplish something no previous administration had with regard to Israel.
“I know that every president would like to — most of them have not started until late because they never thought it was possible,” Trump said. “And it was impossible because they didn’t do it.
“But Bibi and I have known each other a long time — smart man, great negotiator — and I think we’re going to make a deal,” he continued, using a nickname for Netanyahu. “It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand.”
Netanyahu responded by saying, “Smart,” to which Trump replied, “Doesn’t sound too optimistic, but that’s OK.”
“He’s a good negotiator,” Trump said.
Netanyahu replied, “It’s the art of the deal,” an apparent reference to Trump’s 1987 book.
Trump had reportedly issued a surprise warning to Israel earlier this month to stop announcing settlements that “undermine” his administration’s efforts to create peace in the Middle East.
A White House official told The Jerusalem Post that the Trump administration was surprised by Israel’s announcement of thousands of new settlement housing units in the West Bank. Critics see the building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land as harmful to a potential two-state solution.
“As President Trump has made clear, he is very interested in reaching a deal that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is currently exploring the best means of making progress toward that goal,” the official reportedly said. “With that in mind, we urge all parties to refrain from taking unilateral actions that could undermine our ability to make progress, including settlement announcements.”
The White House said in a later statement that it had “not taken an official position on settlement activity.”
“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal,” the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said in a statement. “As the president has expressed many times, he hopes to achieve peace throughout the Middle East region.”
Trump was a staunch advocate of Israel during his campaign for president. In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last year, Trump said he was a “true friend” of Israel and there was “no daylight between America and our most reliable ally the state of Israel.”
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