The Trump administration has signalled readiness to consider a new approach for achieving peace in the Middle East, one that doesn’t hinge on a two-state solution that has long been the policy of the United States and leading players in the region.
“A two-state solution that doesn’t bring peace is not a goal that anybody wants to achieve,” a senior administration official told reporters, previewing President Donald Trump’s meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday.
“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. We’re not going to dictate what the terms of peace will be.”
A two-state solution is a peace formula, among many on the table, that enjoins the creation of a separate Jewish Israel and an Arab Palestine in the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River to solve the Middle East conflict.
Even the governments in Israel has favoured a two-state solution.
Trump has also promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv, where all other countries have their missions, to Jerusalem, a move that will signal the endorsement of Israel’s claim to the city, which is disputed by Palestinians.
Many American politicians have made the promise before, specially while campaigning for office, but have always found it difficult to deliver, given the nature of the problem, when elected.
President Trump has tapped son-in-law Jared Kushner and lawyer Jason Greenblatt to lead his peace drive in the Middle East, but questions remain about how he will achieve that goal.
For the better part of half a century, successive US governments -- both Republican and Democrat -- have backed a two-state solution, the basis of peace talks at Oslo and Camp David.
Netanyahu won re-election in 2015 by insisting he would not accept the creation of a Palestinian state, a vow that considerably soured relations of Israel with the Obama White House.
Obama often warned that Israeli settlement construction could make a two-state solution impossible, and that a one state solution would put the future of the Jewish state in question.
Trump has shied away from criticising Netanyahu’s settlement policies as an impediment to peace, instead offering Israel some scope to build on land already under development.
“The construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal,” the White House said in a statement earlier this month.
Saeb Erakat, a senior Palestinian official, said it was not enough for Trump to say settlements were “unhelpful” but he must order an end to new building.
Netanyahu arrived in Washington on Monday, dined with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday and after his White House talks with Trump on Wednesday will meet lawmakers.
Aside from winning support for policies that will help him at home, the Israeli leader will also want to get the measure of Trump’s appetite for better relations with Russia.
Trump has signalled his willingness to work with Russia to defeat the Islamic State group in Syria.
That could de facto mean furthering the goals of Russian allies Bashar al-Assad and Iran.
Israel sees Iran and its Lebanese ally the Hezbollah militia as its greatest existential threat, a view shared by the leaders of the main Sunni Arab states of the region.
Dennis Ross, a US diplomat who worked on Middle East policy under both Republican and Democratic administrations, said Netanyahu’s diplomatic goals would at first be modest.
Israel wouldn’t oppose a rapprochement with Moscow in itself, but would urge Washington to use this as leverage to push Russia away from Iran.
“What he’d like to see is a distancing of Russia from Iran within Syria, maybe more of a move towards Turkey and less towards Iran in Syria,” Ross told reporters on Monday.
Trump appears to have back-pedalled on a campaign threat to tear up Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, which Israel bitterly opposed, but his administration has “put Iran on notice.”
This appears to mean a more robust stance against military provocations and a determination to impose tough sanctions on Iran’s missile program and covert support for militants.
Observers expect Trump and Netanyahu to get on well in public. Both have much to gain politically from marking a clean break from the Obama years.
But, personal chemistry aside, the pair will only make the relationship a success if it overcomes the disagreement that poisoned ties under Obama. (With inputs from agencies)