How can peace in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians be realized? The question is what role the United States will play.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held their first talks. The two leaders agreed to improve bilateral relations, which had been chilly over the nuclear deal with Iran promoted by the former U.S. administration under President Barack Obama.
At a press conference, Trump indicated his intention of not holding fast to a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a goal pursued by successive U.S. administrations over the past two decades. “I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both parties like,” Trump said.
The two-state solution is a scheme under which both a state of Palestine, which would be established in the future, and Israel coexist peacefully. The international community supports this idea. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also said emphatically to the House of Representatives Budget Committee, “There is no change in the policy of our country supporting [a two-state solution].”
It is uncertain how carefully Trump thought this through, but he probably wants to energize the peace process by clearly expressing his pro-Israeli stance.
Netanyahu is in a difficult position, as he has been pressed by hard-liners within the ruling coalition to abandon the idea of a two-state solution. At a press conference, Netanyahu did assert that a new approach is needed.
It is noteworthy that Trump modified his hitherto one-sided remarks and offered a glimpse of realistic ideas.
Engage Arab countries
With regard to his campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump toned down his stance, saying that his administration is studying the issue closely. While terming the nuclear deal with Iran as “the worst,” he did not refer to “scrapping” the deal. He may have come to understand the danger of destabilizing the Middle East.
Regarding the construction of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territories, which the Netanyahu administration is expanding, Trump gave his candid opinion directly to Netanyahu, telling him: “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.” Trump also made a request to Netanyahu, saying, “As with any successful negotiations, both sides will have to make compromises.”
Few talks have been held in recent years, as settlement activities have been an obstructive factor. Netanyahu may need to restrain hard-liners based on his solid relations with Washington, and link those relations to the resumption of peace talks.
Due to resentment of Trump’s remarks, it is feared that terrorism targeting Israel may increase. While making clear he would hold on to the two-state solution, President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas expressed his readiness to cooperate with the United States.
Such Arab countries as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, which support the Palestinians, have also taken a wait-and-see attitude. They may be considering moving in tandem with the improving U.S.-Israeli ties in such efforts as dealing with their adversary Iran and mopping up terror organizations.
It is essential that efforts be made to engage Arab countries in the peace process.