Sunday 18 February 2018

Trump leaves Israel without mentioning a ‘two-state solution’

Donald Trump and wife Melania with a Carabinieri officer on their arrival at Leonardo Da Vinci airport, near Rome, yesterday. Photo: AP
Donald Trump and wife Melania with a Carabinieri officer on their arrival at Leonardo Da Vinci airport, near Rome, yesterday. Photo: AP

Raf Sanchez in Jerusalem

DONALD TRUMP ended his trip to Israel and the occupied West Bank yesterday without once mentioning the idea of an independent Palestinian state.

A two-state solution – with an independent Palestine next to a secure Israel – has been a cornerstone of US policy for decades but since taking office President Trump has cast significant doubt over whether America still supports it.

After visiting Israel’s Holocaust memorial and meeting Palestinian leaders in Bethlehem, Mr Trump delivered a speech before Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, and his ministers at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The president said he believed the Palestinians were “ready to reach for peace” but stopped short of endorsing the idea of a Palestinian state.

“Both Israeli and Palestinians seek lives of hope for their children and we know that peace is possible if we put aside the pain and disagreements of the past,” he said.

The absence of any talk of two states was immediately picked up on by right-wing ministers such as Naftali Bennett, who leads the pro-settler Jewish Home party.

“Peace doesn’t always have to mean Israel severing part of its land and handing it over to its enemies,” he said. “That doesn’t bring peace, that brings misery.”

Oded Revivi, the mayor of the Israeli settlement of Efrat, also noted that Mr Trump did not mention the idea of two states. “We hope this means that we have moved on from this failed policy and will now work together to build true and lasting peace from the ground up,” he said.

Palestinian officials said they were struggling to reconcile Mr Trump’s rhetoric about making “the ultimate deal” between Israelis and Palestinians with his unwillingness to talk about two states.

“It’s clear the settlers are happy,” said one Palestinian official. “He says he wants a solution but what solution?”

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, reiterated his commitment to two states when he met Mr Trump in Bethlehem. The president first began to muddy the waters of his position on two states during a visit by Mr Netanyahu to the White House in February, when he said he was open to a one-state solution. “I’m looking at two-state and at one-state and I like the one that both parties like,” he said at the time.

Israeli supporters of the two-state solution said they were not alarmed by Mr Trump’s words.

“I’m sure the solution will be two states, because there is no other solution,” said Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition Labour Party. “It’s the only solution that can be accepted by all sides concerned. At the end of it all one cannot escape from it.”

Mr Trump left Israel after laying a wreath at Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust memorial. “Words can never describe the bottomless depths of that evil,” he said.

He will meet Pope Francis in Rome today. Despite being on the ground for just 30 hours, Mr Trump did offer challenges to both sides during his brief visit to Israel.

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