President Donald Trump on Wednesday cast aside decades-old U.S. norms by saying any Middle East peace deal would not necessarily have to establish a Palestinian state.
“I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said standing alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House’s East Room. “I'm very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”
Trump’s reply to a reporter’s question very much reflected his business background. The new U.S. president sees the decades-old plan for a Palestinian state existing peacefully beside a Jewish state as an unmet goal. The 45th U.S. president is eager to nudge both sides toward a deal, and to get one, he is willing to accept something that falls short of the idea of two countries.
“I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two but honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians -- if Israel and the Palestinians -- are happy, I'm happy with the one they like the best,” Trump said.
So far, congressional GOP leaders seem content with giving Trump ample room to pursue a peace deal, and on his policy toward the Jewish state.
For his part, Netanyahu, who has strong support within the Republican caucus in both chambers, laid out his “two prerequisites for peace.”
“First, the Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state,” he said. “They have to stop calling for Israel's destruction, they have to stop educating their people for Israel's destruction.
“Second, in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River because if we don't, we know what will happen,” the Israeli leader said. “Because otherwise, we'll get another radical Islamic terrorist state in the Palestinian areas exploding the peace, exploding the Middle East.”
Another issue on which Republican leaders are giving Trump ample leeway is his campaign trail pledge to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Since taking office, Trump has backed away from the pledge, saying it is complicated.
On Wednesday, he said his administration is “looking at it very, very strongly,” adding, “and we'll see what happens.”
Netanyahu took Trump off guard by announcing the duo intend to seek more than just an Israeli-Palestinian peace pact.
“I believe that the great opportunity for peace comes from a regional approach from involving our new found Arab partners in the pursuit of a broader peace and peace with the Palestinians,” he said.
A moment later, Trump said he “didn't know you were going to be mentioning that,” while also throwing his weight behind the deal: “I think it's a terrific thing and I think we have some pretty good cooperation from people that in the past would never, ever have even thought about doing this.”
Neither Trump nor Netanyahu identified which countries would be involved in such an initiative.
The U.S. president looked directly at Netanyahu at one point and urged him to temporarily stop building settlements on the West Bank. The Israeli leader held tight to both sides of his podium and stared back at Trump, stonefaced.
In another remarkable moment Trump pinned blame for his decision to fire his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, on the media. In doing so, he contradicted his own top spokesman, Sean Spicer, who on Tuesday said the president asked Flynn to step down because he had lost “trust” in him.
“Gen. Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the fake media in many cases,” Trump said. “And I think it's really a sad thing that he was treated so badly.
“I think in addition to that from intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked, it's criminal action,” he said, referring to Flynn’s conversations with a top Russian diplomat.
“It's a criminal act and it's been going on for a long time before me but now it's really going on,” he said, next repeating a morning Twitter rant by saying the Flynn-Russia narrative is meant to “cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.”