US President Donald Trump signs a proclamation after he delivered a statement on Jerusalem from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC on December 6, 2017 as US Vice President Mike Pence looks on. (Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump Reverses Two-Step On The Two-state Solution

Just hours after seemingly endorsing the parameter for the first time, the U.S. president backtracked

United States President Donald Trump raised eyebrows Wednesday when during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu he for the first time appeared to endorse a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I like [the] two-state solution, yeah,” the American leader asserted. “That’s what I think works best. I don’t even have to speak to anybody, that’s my feeling.”

Just hours later, though, and perhaps after to speaking to someone, the president backtracked, suggesting that, “if the Israelis and the Palestinians want one state, that’s okay with me.”

When queried about the initial statement, Prime Minister Netanyahu sidestepped the issue, instead making clear that Israel’s priority is to maintain security control over the West Bank. “I told [President Trump] that what is important is that the Palestinians won’t be able to threaten us,” the premier explained, adding that any prospective Palestinian state needed to be more “like Costa Rica than Iran.”

Notably, he also stressed that there are various interpretations of what the actualization of Palestinian nationhood would entail. In his own estimation, such an entity would, among other limitations, be demilitarized with the Israel Defense Forces deployed in perpetuity in the Jordan Valley. Some in Netanyahu’s governing coalition promote a Palestinian “state-minus,” essentially the equivalent of “autonomy on steroids.”

Irrespective of the innumerable permutations—and no matter the label used to denote the formula—the vast majority of Israeli officialdom supports some kind of definitive separation from the Palestinians.

President Trump’s flip-flop is particularly noteworthy given its occurrence on the same day that he revealed his highly-anticipated, year-and-a-half-in-the-making peace proposal is nearing completion and will be rolled out within four months.

This prompted some observers to raise serious questions about the prospective plan, particularly as regards its over-riding framework, which, presumably, would be formulated in order to provide the necessary context to address the conflict’s core issues. Still others have raised the possibility that the U.S. president may not even be familiar with the proposal’s contents and thus, by extension, unaware of its potential ramifications.

“I would distinguish between the president’s words and the work done by his team, which understands that for Israel there is no solution that consists of one state,” Brig. Gen. (res.) Michael Herzog, an International Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy who since the 1990s has been an integral member of Israel’s peace negotiating team, conveyed to The Media Line.

“I assume President Trump was briefed by his staff on the implications of one [bi-national] state. If you recall, there was a recent report claiming he said that unless there is a two-state solution the prime minister of Israel would one day be named Mohamed. The main point is that the president was emphasizing that the U.S. is not going to impose a recipe and it is up to the parties to agree on the type of solution.”

Benjamin Weinthal, a Research Fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, contends that President Trump’s about-face is a manifestation of “the U.S. administration’s grappling with a new paradigm and its departure from what it views as an obsolete model. As we’ve seen, the American embassy was moved to Jerusalem and the plug was pulled on [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which tends to Palestinian refugees].

“These measures by President Trump,” he elaborated to The Media Line, “is cognitive behavioral therapy for the Palestinians aimed at changing their frame of mind and getting them to cooperate and compromise. The talk of one state or two states has to be viewed in the context of an effort to upend [the conventional wisdom] and should not necessarily be taken literally.”

Most analysts agree that President Trump’s primary point men on the peace process, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, have done their homework, traveling numerous times to the region to hear out leaders. To this end, sources within the White House have described their peace plan as incredibly detailed and encompassing every aspect of the conflict. And while the Palestinians perhaps justifiably view the process to date as biased in favor of Israel, the American envoys repeatedly have intimated that the Netanyahu government also will be expected to make tough concessions that may be considered anathema.

Even so, the Palestinian leadership reacted to President Trump’s latest comments in familiar fashion—that is, with fury—even though many construed them as an overture to Ramallah. Instead of using the opening to press its positions, the Palestinian Authority denounced “the current American administration [for] wag[ing] a public war against the Palestinian people.” This, after PA officials convened a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in which they lobbied donor nations to devise a mechanism to internationalize the peace process.

Given the prevailing circumstances, if, in fact, a groundbreaking and controversial U.S. plan is forthcoming then many believe it would behoove members of the administration to get on the same page by formulating ahead of time a coherent messaging strategy that leaves no doubt about where President Trump stands and how he intends to navigate the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic minefield.

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