White House says Middle East peace may not be two-state solution

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House, the Trump administration is going back and forth over whether its vision for Middle East peace includes a Palestinian state.

A senior White House official, speaking to reporters before President Donald Trump's meeting with Mr Netanyahu, said Mr Trump is eager to begin facilitating a peace deal between the two sides and hopes to bring them together soon.

It will be up to the Israelis and Palestinians to determine what peace will entail, and that peace, not a two-state solution, is the goal, according to the official.

State Department officials said they were not aware of any policy shift on the desirability of an agreement establishing an independent Palestine side-by-side with Israel - long the bedrock of US policy in the region.

Three officials said the department was seeking clarification from the White House, which came as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was having dinner with Mr Netanyahu on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, another White House official would not clarify if the two-state solution was indeed being abandoned.

Instead, the official said peace is "our primary focus" and all options were on the table.

It was not clear if the White House had intended to declare a major shift in policy during the hastily arranged briefing on Tuesday night.

The two leaders planned a news conference before convening for meetings and a working lunch.

The prime minister was expected then to go to Capitol Hill for meetings with politicians, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

CIA chief Mike Pompeo secretly held talks in the West Bank with Mahmoud Abbas, in what was the first high-level meeting between the Palestinian leader and an administration official.

Two senior Palestinian officials said the meeting took place on Tuesday at Mr Abbas's headquarters in Ramallah. The White House declined to comment.

For decades, the US position has been that Israelis and Palestinians must work through direct negotiations to establish two states living side by side and at peace.

All serious peace negotiations in that time have assumed that the two-state solution was the basis for an end to the conflict.

President Trump takes pride in his deal-making skills and said during his campaign that he would love the challenge of negotiating a Middle East agreement.

He has appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to lead the effort.

The White House official said the visit was meant to mark a new, closer relationship between Israel and the United States, an alliance that came under strain under President Barack Obama.

Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu were likely to discuss peace efforts as well as expanded Israeli settlements, Iran and President Trump's campaign pledge to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The latter would signal US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a move that would infuriate Palestinians.

They claim the eastern sector of the city, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as their capital.

American presidents have struck a delicate balance in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, stressing the close US friendship with Israel and lavishing the Jewish state with aid.

But recent presidents also have called out Israel for actions seen as undermining peace efforts, such as expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank.


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