- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

On the eve of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first meeting with President Trump, a senior White House official said Tuesday night that the administration won’t insist on a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, the traditional foundation for international peace talks.

“A two-state solution that doesn’t bring peace is not a goal that anybody wants to achieve,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “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.”

The official emphasized that the Trump administration will not “dictate” the terms of any possible agreement, while also saying that Mr. Trump is eager to achieve peace in the region.

“We’re looking at the two sides to come together to make peace together and we’ll be there to help them,” the official said.

Mr. Trump will host Mr. Netanyahu at the White House Wednesday for their first face-to-face discussions since the president’s inauguration. The two leaders also will hold a joint press conference at noon in the East Room of the White House, followed by a working lunch.

The president is promising a better relationship than the prime minister had with former President Obama, who often clashed with Mr. Netanyahu over issues such as new settlements in the West Bank.

Under the Obama administration, the U.S. pushed the “two-state solution” in geographic Palestine — the Jewish state of Israel and an Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

After decades of refusal to allow an Arab state in those territories, which Israel captured from Jordan and Egypt in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israeli politics had come around to accepting this possibility in the late 1990s and 2000s. But after the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of settlements there produced a Hamas-run terrorist enclave, Israel has soured on the possibility of a near-term two-state solution. As a result, the Obama administration saw Israeli reluctance as the principal obstacle to peace, with relationships especially frosty between Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu personally.

The senior administration official said the meeting heralds “a new relationship between Israel and the United States — something that Israel has not seen in well over eight years, a relationship that will show there is no daylight, that we are fully cognizant of the situation that Israel finds itself in.”

Administration officials haven’t offered a time frame for beginning talks with Palestinians and Israelis on a possible peace accord, although the senior official called it “a very high priority” for the president.

“As the president has made clear, his administration will work to achieve comprehensive agreement that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so that Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday. “The way forward toward that goal will also be discussed.”

Iran is expected to be on the agenda. Mr. Netanyahu is welcoming the Trump administration’s skeptical approach to Tehran and the nuclear deal, with the president saying he wants to revisit parts of the agreement and crack down on Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism.

The Obama administration’s relations with Israel hit a low point in December when the U.S. refrained from vetoing a U.N. Security Council vote condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank. During the transition, Mr. Trump harshly criticized Mr. Obama’s decision and promised Israel that help was on the way.

But in recent days Mr. Trump and his advisers have been saying that new settlements may not be helpful to any peace process. The president also has seemed to back away from earlier promises to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, a move that is opposed strenuously by Palestinians.

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