Donald Trump charts new Mideast course, maybe no separate Palestine

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WASHINGTON: Charting a striking new course for the Middle East, President Donald Trump on Wednesday withheld clear support for an independent Palestine and declared he could endorse a one-nation solution to the long and deep dispute between Palestinians and Israel.

The American president, signaling a new era of comity between the US and Israel after rocky relations under President Barack Obama, said he was more interested in an agreement that leads to peace than in any particular path to get there. Standing beside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump broke not only with recent US presidents but also distanced the United States from the prevailing position of much of the world.

While Trump urged Netanyahu to "hold off" on Jewish settlement construction in territory the Palestinians claim for their future state, he offered unwavering support for Israel, a pledge he appeared to substantiate with his vague comments about the shape of any agreement.

While it once appeared that a two-state solution was the "easier of the two" options for the Palestinians and Israel, Trump said he'd be open to alternatives. "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like," he told reporters. "I can live with either one."

The United States has formally backed the two-state solution as official policy since 2002, when President George W Bush said in the White House Rose Garden that his vision was "two states, living side by side in peace and security."

In practice, the US already had embraced the policy informally. President Bill Clinton, who oversaw the Oslo Accords in the 1990s that were envisioned as a stepping stone to Palestinian statehood, said before leaving office that resolution to the conflict required a viable Palestinian state.

Separately on Wednesday, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called on Netanyahu to end settlement building and expressed "willingness to resume a credible peace process " Also on Wednesday, CIA chief Mike Pompeo secretly held talks in the West Bank with Abbas, the first high-level meeting between the Palestinian leader and a Trump administration official, senior Palestinian officials said. The White House wouldn't comment on the meeting

All serious peace negotiations in recent decades have assumed the emergence of an independent Palestine. The alternatives appear to offer dimmer prospects for peace, given Palestinian demands for statehood. Dozens of countries, including the US, reaffirmed their support for a two-state accord at an international conference in Paris last month, before Trump's inauguration.

In Cairo on Wednesday, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said: "There is no Plan B to the situation between Palestinians and Israelis but a two-state solution. ... Everything must be done to preserve that possibility."

At one point Wednesday, Trump noted the need for compromise in achieving any Mideast peace. Netanyahu interjected: "Both sides."

On terrorism and other matters, there appeared little daylight between the leaders.
Echoing language used by Trump over a need to combat "radical Islamic extremism," Netanyahu said that for peace to be sustainable, two "prerequisites" must be met: "Recognition of the Jewish state and Israel's security needs west of the Jordan" River.

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