B efore the highly anticipated meeting between Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, rumours abounded about a fundamental change in both US and Israeli policy towards resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict.
At a joint press conference full of mutual praise, President Trump indeed signalled a major shift, backing away from US insistence on a two-state solution. "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,” the new US president said. Republican and Democratic administrations alike had previously focused on the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The Israeli prime minister, who had with certain conditions backed a two-state solution in a speech in 2009, was equally non-committal, stating that he wanted to focus on “substance” instead of “labels” after reporters repeatedly asked about his commitment to the two-state paradigm which had guided previous peace talks. Both leaders spoke of a regional approach to the peace efforts, including Arab states.
Commenting on an issue that had contributed to the at times icy relationship between Mr. Netanyahu and former President Barack Obama, Mr. Trump urged the Israeli prime minister to curb settlement activity. Despite the warm atmosphere at the meeting, US insistence on reduced settlement activity - after weeks of announcements about new projects going ahead - could stir some trouble for Mr. Netanyahu at home as right-wing members of his cabinet have formulated more aggressive strategies to seize territory in the occupied West Bank.
I said it before, and I will repeat it here again: I don’t want to annex close to 2.5 million Palestinians to Israel. I do not want them to be our subjects.”
What would be the alternative to two independent states? Speaking before the meeting in Washington, top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the only alternative to a Palestinian state was a one-state solution in which all Palestinians will get a right to vote. This would mean a binational, Jewish-Arab state, not a Jewish state, something many in Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet would not be happy with. Against this, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the head of the Arab League both reiterated their commitment to a two-state solution after the Trump-Netanyahu meeting.
The chummy atmosphere between the two leaders was another break from the past, and President Trump voiced his optimism about a deal being reached. For many, however, the meeting rather demonstrated a lack of a coherent strategy going forward.