Trump walks back years of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East

The president says he “could live with either” a one-state or two-state solution.

President Donald Trump reaches out for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Washington. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
President Donald Trump reaches out for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Washington. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

The two-state solution as we know it may be over.

Speaking during a press conference Wednesday alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Donald Trump failed to commit his support for a future Palestinian state, saying that he “could live with either” a one-state or two-state solution and that he would defer to whatever solution might be preferred by both parties.

“I’m looking at a two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said. “I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I could live with either one.”

Trump’s comments are an ominous sign that a shift is coming, and a dramatic shift away from decades of U.S. foreign policy.


Broad bipartisan support exists for the two-state solution and few U.S. presidents have seen fit to rock the boat. The Obama administration made regional harmony a priority, and former Secretary of State John Kerry worked hard to bring both Israeli and Palestinian leaders back to the negotiating table in an effort to restart peace talks.

Trump’s comments on the two-state solution follow a long line of indicators that his administration is not taking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seriously.

After only a week in office, Trump ignited a firestorm by signaling his willingness to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that would almost certainly spark a crisis. Palestinian leaders condemned the plan, threatening to revoke any acknowledgement of Israel should the embassy be relocated. Appointing David M. Friedman, a noted skeptic of the two-state solution, as Ambassador to Israel also did little to help relations.

The press conference was a sign of the times in Israel, too. Two years ago, Netanyahu reaffirmed his support for the two-state solution after coming under pressure from the international community, including the Obama administration. Now, surrounded by an increasingly right-wing cabinet, he has proved more willing to push back on the framework, arguing that Palestinians themselves should be doing the majority of the work for peace and cautioning against the perceived source of terrorism that Israel fears a Palestinian state would pose.

Knesset member Gilad Erdan, who serves as Israel’s Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Minister of Information, has said that, “all the Cabinet ministers oppose a Palestinian state, including Netanyahu.” When Obama was president, this stance wasn’t particularly viable. With Trump in the White House, however, Netanyahu is becoming increasingly vocal, something the duo’s press conference made clear.


“Rather than deal with labels, I’d like to deal with substance,” Netanyahu emphasized several times when asked about the two-state solution during the press conference, avoiding any commitment to peace between Israel and the Palestinians living under its occupation.

On Tuesday, CIA Director Mike Pompeo was in the occupied West Bank, where he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas amidst growing concern from Palestinians over the Trump administration’s rapport with Israel. The meeting seemingly did little to ease tensions, and Palestinians have renewed their calls for Trump to support an independent Palestinian state. Refusing to offer this support could lead to “a disaster and a tragedy for [both] Israelis and Palestinians,” Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian official, argued.

The United Nations is also concerned about the future of the two state solution. When asked in Cairo, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was firm in his response. “There is no alternative solution for the situation between the Palestinians and Israelis, other than the solution of establishing two states,” Guterres said, “and we should do all that can be done to maintain this.”

During the press conference on Wednesday, Trump advised Netanyahu to “hold back” on aggressive development of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, to which the latter demurred, saying the issue would be discussed in their meeting. Trump failed to flesh out a clear response in regards to moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.