WASHINGTON — President Trump asked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop settlement construction for “a little bit” and declared he’s fine with a two-state solution or one-state solution during the leaders’ first meeting at the White House today.
The two leaders took the unusual move of holding an East Room press conference before they sat down for bilateral talks instead of afterward.
“As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit,” Trump said, turning to the prime minister. “We’ll work something out but I would like to see a deal be made, I think a deal will be made. I know that every president would like to — most of them have not started till late because they never thought it was possible and it was impossible because they didn’t do it, but Bibi and I’ve known each other a long time.”
“Smart man, great negotiator, and I think we’re going to make a deal,” he added. “It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand. That’s a possibility so let’s see what we do.”
Trump said he’s “looking at two-state and one-state” solutions for a Mideast deal with the Palestinians “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. 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,” he said.
Netanyahu stressed that “the issue of the settlements is not the core of the conflict, nor does it really drive the conflict.”
He and Trump were going to discuss the issue, the prime minister added, “so we can arrive at an understanding so we don’t keep on bumping into each other all the time on this issue.”
Pressed on whether his administration plans on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, Trump said he’d “love to see that happen.”
“We’re looking at it very, very strongly. We’re looking at it with great care, great care, believe me,” he said. “And we’ll see what happens. OK?”
Netanyahu emphasized that his two prerequisites for peace haven’t changed: “First, the Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state. They have to stop calling for Israel’s destruction, they have to stop educating their people for Israel’s destruction,” he said. “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. Because otherwise, we’ll get another radical Islamic terrorist state in the Palestinian areas exploding the peace, exploding the Middle East.”
“This is the source of the conflict: The persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state in any boundary, this persistent rejectionism, that’s the reason we don’t have peace,” Netanyahu added. “Now that has to change, I want it to change. Not only have I not abandoned these two prerequisites of peace, they’ve become even more important because of the rising tide of fanaticism that has swept the Middle East and has also, unfortunately, infected Palestinian society.”
“…If anyone believes that I, as prime minister of Israel, responsible for the security of my country, would blindly walk into a Palestinian terrorist state that seeks the destruction of my country, they’re gravely mistaken.”
Netanyahu said he was eager to discuss “the great opportunity for peace,” including involving “our newfound Arab partners,” in detail with Trump “because I think that if we work together, we have a shot” at a peace process.
“And we have been discussing that and it is something that is very different, hasn’t been discussed before. And it’s actually a much bigger deal — much more important deal in a sense. It would take in many, many countries and would cover a very large territory,” Trump said. “So, I didn’t know you were going to be mentioning that, but that’s now that you did. I think it’s a terrific things and I think we have some pretty good cooperation from people that in the past, would never ever have even thought about doing this. So we’ll see how that works out.”
Trump added that “the Israelis are going to have to show some flexibility, which is hard, it’s hard to do.”
“They’re gonna have to show the fact that they really want to make a deal. I think our new concept that we’ve been discussing actually for a while is something that allows them to show more flexibility than they have in the past, because we have a lot bigger canvas to play with,” he said. “And I think they’ll do that. I think they very much would like to will make a deal, or I wouldn’t be happy and I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be as optimistic as I am. I really think — I can tell you from the standpoint of me being from the standpoint of Israel, I really believe they want to make a deal. And they’d like to see the big deal.”
The Palestinians, the president said, “have to get rid of some of that hate that they are taught from a very young age.”
“They’re taught tremendous hate. I’ve seen what they’re taught. And you can talk about flexibility there too, but it starts at a very young age and it starts in the schoolroom. And they have to acknowledge, as you know, they’re going to have to do that,” Trump said.
Trump was asked by an Israeli reporter how he planned to address the recent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the country, and what he’d say to people around the world “who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones.”
After touting his electoral college victory, Trump replied, “I will say that we are going to have peace in this country.”
“We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on. There’s a lot of bad things that have been taking place over a long period of time,” he said. “I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation, very divided. And hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And I, you know, it was something that was very important to me.”