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Heavy criticism, some optimism as Trump walks back on two-state solution

US President Donald Trump (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House on February 15, 2017
SAUL LOEB (AFP)
Some U.S. Jewish groups decried Trump's apparent policy shift, while others expressed optimism

U.S. newspapers piled on criticism of President Donald Trump's apparent walk-back of America's longstanding commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Thursday, calling his statements on the issue "nonsensical" and "absurd."

Speaking during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of closed-door talks on Wednesday, Trump said that he could "live with" either a two- or a one-state solution to the long-simmering conflict.

"I'm looking at two state and one state, and I like the one that both parties like. I'm very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one," Trump said.

U.S. media outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times all published editorials Thursday morning slamming the statement and accusing the President of making peace harder to achieve.

SAUL LOEB (AFP)

A New York Times editorial called Trump's remarks "dangerous" and "nonsensical," saying he "offered no details on any peace initiative, and the vagueness of his remarks suggests he has no inkling of how to move forward."

"His willingness, however, to lend credence to those who would deny a separate state to the Palestinians will certainly make peace harder to achieve," the paper's editorial board wrote, adding that his remarks gave "less reason than ever to believe that he can succeed where so many other presidents have failed."

The Washigton Post called the seeming policy change "a dangerous retreat" that "increased the chances that one of the few relatively peaceful corners of the region will return to conflict."

The paper's editorial board said that there is "no workable one-state formula" that would enable Israel to be both a Jewish and democratic state, calling Trump "naive".

The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, said it was "absurd" to think that the Palestinians would agree to a one-state solution, saying that "A single state that would be agreeable to both sides isn’t the ‘ultimate deal’ of Trump’s imaginings; it’s the ultimate fantasy."

SAUL LOEB (AFP)

While Netanyahu on Wednesday set forth conditions for a independent Palestinian state he, too, held back endorsing it outright.

Netanyahu reiterated that any future peace agreement with the Palestinians would be contingent on recognition of Israel as a Jewish State, as well as full security control over the West Bank.

Both he and Trump expressed support for a regional initiative that involved Arab partners.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's office on Wednesday released a statement reiterating the Palestinian leadership's commitment to the two-state solution.

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General Saeb Erekat, the Palestinians' top negotiator during the last round of failed peace talks, on Wednesday said that the only alternative to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be the creation of one sovereign democratic state in which all Palestinians are granted full and equal rights. Anything less, he warned, would be 'apartheid.'

SAUL LOEB (AFP)

Liberal American Jewish leaders also expressed concern over the apparent shift in U.S. policies towards Israel, calling Trump's retreat from the two-state solution "bizarre" and "terrifying."

The Union for Reform Judaism called Trump's remarks "an abdication of the longtime, bipartisan support for a two-state solution" that were "potentially devastating to the prospects for peace and Israel’s Jewish, democratic future."

"The question is: can Israelis and Palestinians live with it in a way that allows for a Jewish, democratic State of Israel and realization of the legitimate rights and aspirations of the Palestinians," the group's president Rabbi Rick Jacobs said in a statement. "Only a two-state solution can achieve the goals of the Israelis and Palestinians."

The American Jewish Committee also reiterated its position, adopted by the AJC National Board of Governors in December, that "a two-state solution is the only realistic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as established through direct bilateral negotiations between the parties themselves."

Mandel Ngan (AFP)

Other Jewish groups expressed optimism about the future of U.S.-Israel relations, and made no mention on the President's remarks on the conflict.

The Republican Jewish Coalition called the meeting "a welcome sign that a new era has arrived for United States-Israel relations."

"It is in the interests of both our nations’ securities that we recognize the fundamental challenges facing the region, and their root causes. Whether it’s preventing a nuclear Iran, or the responsibilities of the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table in order to reach peace, we will only achieve our mutual goals if we stand united in the process. Thankfully, it’s clear that going forward there will be no daylight between the U.S. and our closest ally in the Middle East," the group said in a statement posted to their website.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder called the meeting "an encouraging sign that the historic alliance between Israel and the United States is back on strong footing."

In Israel, right-wing lawmakers also welcomed what they called a "new era" in the region.

For the better part of half a century successive U.S. governments, Republican and Democrat, have backed a two-state solution.

But since coming to office Trump has sought to show that the United States is an unwavering ally of Israel, trying to draw a contrast with President Barack Obama.

Trump has yet to speak directly to the Palestinian leadership since taking office.

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