WASHINGTON - Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is high on the agenda of U.S. President Donald Trump, but whether or not that will entail the two-state solution depends on the two sides, a senior U.S. administration official told reporters in Washington on Tuesday, a day before a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the U.S. president.
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"It's not for us to impose that vision," the official said, adding that the term "two-state solution" has not been particularly well defined.
"If I ask five people what a two-state solution is, I get eight different answers," the officials said. "We're looking at the two sides to come together to make peace together and we'll be there to help them."
The official added that a two-state solution that doesn't achieve peace is unwanted. The goal is to achieve peace, whether through the two-state solution – if that's what both sides wish - or through another solution, the official said. "If that's what the parties want, we're going to help them," he said, adding: "We're not going to dictate what the terms of peace will be."
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The official added that Trump is interested in organizing direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and that advancing the peace process is high on his agenda.
Two days before he landed in Washington, Netanyahu told his ministers that Trump is serious about the peace process. An official with knowledge of the cabinet meeting said that Netanyahu told the ministers that Trump asked him in a phone conversation two days after his inauguration if and how he intends to advance the peace process with the Palestinians. Netanyahu said that he told Trump that he supports the two-state solution and a final status agreement, but stressed that he told the president that the Palestinians are unwilling and detailed the reasons why a peace deal cannot be reached at this time.
"They (the Palestinians) will want, they will make concessions," was Trump's response, Netanyahu told the ministers, the official said.
Netanyahu revealed the details of his phone call with Trump after Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked pressed him to urge the U.S. president to take the two-state solution off the table.
The senior official said that Netanyahu replied that he doesn't believe that was possible, noting the American president's stances and temperament. "Trump believes in a deal and in running peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians," Netanyahu stressed. "We should be careful and not do things that will cause everything to break down. We mustn't get into a confrontation with him."
Also on Tuesday, Netanyahu met with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The two discussed all the regional issues, including Iran, the Prime Minister's Bureau said. According to the bureau, Netanyahu also invited Tillerson to Israel in order to form direct contacts between his team and the prime minister's office.
Netanyahu landed in Washington Tuesday morning, straight into an unprecedented internal crisis in the White House following the resignation of Trump’s national security adviser, Mike Flynn. Flynn was a central figure in preparing for the meeting between Trump and Netanyahu and a crucial figure in forming American policy toward Iran.
It is still unclear how Flynn’s resignation will affect the meeting, but in light of the pivotal role he had in preparing for the summit and the White House’s need to find a solution to the crisis it produced, the resignation is certainly liable to cast a shadow over the meeting.
On Tuesday Netanyahu and his advisers concentrated on preparing for the summit. Some of the preparatory discussions were held Tuesday night at the Israeli embassy in Washington, and not at Blair House, mainly due to fear of wiretapping.
Netanyahu will try to reach the closest possible coordination with the Americans regarding settlement construction and how to proceed in negotiations with the Palestinians. Already on Sunday he dispatched his special envoy, Yitzhak Molho, for discussions with Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is expected to be involved in the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and Tillerson, who is also expected to play a major part on this front.
According to Israeli officials, Netanyahu hopes Trump will support a regional peace initiative in which the Palestinians will be only one part of a wider arrangement. Obama did not support such a move because he did not trust Netanyahu.