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'I'd Like To See You Hold Back On Settlements,' Trump Tells Netanyahu

President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday.
Evan Vucci
President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday.

With differing messages emanating from the Trump administration about its stance on the two-state solution for in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, many eyes turned to President Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for clarity on the issue at their joint news conference at the White House Wednesday.

"So I'm looking at two-state and one-state — and I like the one that both parties like," Trump said when asked about the subject alongside Netanyahu at the formal news conference around midday Wednesday.

"I'm very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one," Trump continued. "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."

In the Israeli leader's response to the same question, Netanyahu said he was concerned with substance, not labels. And he said his two main requirements for a peace deal haven't changed.

"First, the Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state. They have to stop calling for Israel's destruction," Netanyahu said.

Secondly, he added, "in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River."

Earlier, when Trump was asked for his view of Israel's settlement activities, he responded by pivoting to look at his Israeli counterpart and saying, "I'd like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. We'll work something out, but I would like to see a deal be made."

After Netanyahu offered a short reply to that statement — "Let's try it," he seemed to say, as he waved a hand — Trump said, "Doesn't sound too optimistic, but he's a good negotiator."

The two leaders spoke shortly after Netanyahu arrived at the White House with his wife, Sara. The news conference kicked off a series of joint events for Trump and Netanyahu, ranging from a private meeting to a bilateral session and a working lunch.

Last night, remarks by senior White House officials seemed to signal a possible shift in the long-held U.S. view that a two-state solution is integral to peace negotiations, with an official describing the idea as something that should be left up to the two main parties in the talks.

"A two-state solution that doesn't bring peace is not a goal that anybody wants to achieve," the official said. "Peace is the goal, whether it comes in the form of a two-state solution if that's what the parties want or something else, if that's what the parties want, we're going to help them."

That message about the possibility of creating an independent Palestinian state differed from the U.S. message that was relayed to Palestinian leaders this week.

On the eve of the White House meeting with Israel's leader, CIA Director Mike Pompeo met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah — where the American intelligence chief relayed "reassuring messages about the two-state solution" to the Palestinians, according to Israeli news site Haaretz, citing a source familiar with the meeting.

Trump has said he wants to restart peace talks between the two sides — something that hasn't happened in more than two years.

"He said he wants to put his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of brokering what he's called 'the ultimate deal,'" NPR's Scott Horsley reports on Morning Edition.

But, Scott adds, some Israelis are wary of entering a new round of negotiations.

In response to reports from Washington about the views of senior officials, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry issued a statement Wednesday declaring that if the reports are accurate, the "Trump administration's withdrawal from adopting the two state-solution, will mark Netanyahu's instant success that will strengthen his position."

While saying that they would await word from Trump and Netanyahu's official appearance at the White House, the Palestinian ministry also stated that it "will seek a broader international front to preserve the two-state solution," citing the possible involvement of the European Union.

One month ago, U.S. officials joined diplomats from some 70 nations to affirm the importance of a two-state solution at a summit held in Paris. The summit did not include leaders from Israel or the Palestinian Authority.

"President Trump has very much indicated that he wants to achieve peace," a senior White House official said in the background briefing on Netanyahu's visit.

The official also stated, "We're not going to dictate what the terms of peace will be."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.