NEW YORK - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters Wednesday he was not surprised by U.S. President Donald Trump's remark that he favored a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying "Everyone defines the term 'state' differently."
Briefing reporters following his meeting with Trump at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Netanyahu said he expects Trump to accept the Israeli approach that any possible peace scenario would leave security control of territories west of Jordan in Israel's hands.
"I am willing for the Palestinians to have the authority to rule themselves without the authority to harm us," Netanyahu said, adding that he assumes any American plan would reflect this principle.
He said not to know the exact timetable for the plan's publication.
Earlier Wednesday, after Trump and Netanyahu met, Trump for the first time expressed public and explicit support of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "I like two-state solution. Yeah. That's what I think… that's what I think works best. I don't even have to speak to anybody, that's my feeling... I think two-state solution works best," the U.S. president said at a joint press conference.
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Ever since his "Bar Ilan" foreign policy speech in 2009, Netanyahu has refrained, especially in Hebrew, from clarifying his stance on a Palestinian state. He was now forced to explicitly address the possible formation of one.
When asked by Haaretz whether a Palestinian "state minus," as he defined it, would become a reality during his term, Netanyahu said "I suggest you wait and see. It is important to set what is inadmissible to us: Israel will not relinquish security control west of Jordan. This will not happen so long as I am prime minister and I think the Americans understand that."
Netanyahu noted that he had previously told Trump that "the question is whether the state next to us will be like Costa Rica or like Iran."
When asked about a statement from Education Minister and Habayit Hayehudi party chairman Naftali Bennett following Trump's comments, in which he said that "as long as Habayit Hayehudi is in the government," no Palestinian state will be established, as such would a "disaster" for Israel, Netanyahu smiled and said: "Then I can assure you there will be no Palestinian state that would be a disaster for Israel."
Referring to Trump's support of Israel's actions in Syria, Netanyahu said he was very satisfied with the president's "unreserved support for the State of Israel and its right to self defense in the context of the event [the crisis with Russia over the downing of a Russian plane in Syria] and in general."
Netanyahu added that he "came with specific requests and I received everything I wanted from him [Trump]. The president gave explicit instructions. This is very important for Israel’s security … Our goal is to preserve the connection with Russia and on the other hand to defend Israel’s security against these threats."
A senior diplomat said with regard to the Haaretz report on the rejection of the Israeli proposal to send senior diplomats to Russia, “The Russians haven’t rejected a Netanyahu-Putin meeting. He will call him went he gets back to Israel and a meeting will be set up. Contact between the advisers continues almost every day.”
Netanyahu said he spoke to Trump extensively about Iran. "They are determined and are acting to put maximum pressure on Iran, and I do not see that this is going to change.”
The prime minister also addressed the issue of his adviser, David Keyes, who is facing allegations of sexual assault, and with Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer sitting next to him said, “I am certain that Ambassador Dermer has acted properly; this matter is under examination and I suggest we let it proceed.” Dermer had admitted he was aware of Keyes' alleged misconduct, but said he did not inform the Prime Minister's Office.
In light of the meetings between Israeli politicians and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a diplomatic source told Haaretz that Netanyahu had “made contact” with Abbas but the latter refused to meet.
According to the source, “It’s absurd to think that while the United States is preparing such a plan, that Netanyahu would circumvent this move."
"This doesn’t mean that we don’t have contacts with the Palestinians," the source said, adding there are frequent contacts with Palestinian security officials. "We see that there’s a problem in Gaza, for example, because of decisions by Abu Mazen [Abbas] and we try to resolve it."
The source said Netanyahu is not indifferent or idle about the economic strifes of the Palestinians following Trump's funding cuts. "On the one hand they are taking care of this front through Egypt and the United Nations, and on the other hand there are contacts with Abu Mazen. There was contact with him and he refused.”
Responding to the source's claim, a Palestinian official in New York said: “The Israelis should leave their old blame game tactics. The only fact here is that we did not reject any meeting. They did not ask to meet to start with. President Abbas accepted to meet Mr. Netanyahu in several occasions, but it’s the Israeli PM the one who never shows up. Netanyahu knows well that we have clear positions in all issues and that the only position his government has regarding Palestine is apartheid.”
Netanyahu's bureau responded to this report, claiming it was false. "The prime minister vehemently refused to define the state question, and said he does not deal with terminologies but with essence. The prime minister will insist on Israel's security interests, the first of which is security control west of Jordan," said the statement.