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2 state solution optional? Palestinians puzzled by US view

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinian officials said Wednesday that there’s no alternative to Palestinian statehood, expressing concern over the Trump administration suggestions that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be optional.

It remains unclear if the comments on the issue by a senior U.S. official ahead of Wednesday’s White House meeting between President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signal a shift in long-standing U.S. policy.

Netanyahu is under growing pressure from right-wing Cabinet ministers to abandon the goal of a two-state solution — an idea he publicly endorsed several years ago, albeit with reservations.

Critics say that in any case, Israel’s policy of settlement expansion on war-won land is making such a partition deal increasingly difficult.

“All the Cabinet ministers oppose a Palestinian state, including Netanyahu,” Gilad Erdan, a Cabinet minister and member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, told Israel’s Army Radio on Wednesday.

Far-right education minister Naftali Bennett warned last week that “the earth will shake” if Trump and Netanyahu declare a commitment to a Palestinian state in their meeting.

In Washington, a senior White House official told reporters on Tuesday that Trump is eager to begin facilitating a peace deal between the two sides and hopes to bring them together soon.

But the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the meeting beforehand, said 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.

The Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War. The contours of a solution have emerged in previous U.S.-led negotiations, including a border that is based on the 1967 lines but would include mutual land swaps to accommodate some of the larger Jewish settlements close to Israel.

Support for a two-state solution was reaffirmed at an international conference in Paris last month, with representatives from more than 70 countries and organizations.

“The two-state solution is not something we just came up with,” Husam Zomlot, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said Wednesday.

“We Palestinians are aligned with the international vision for peace, officially recognizing Israel in 1993, in the 1967 borders … However, Israel never reciprocated and continues to undermine the prospects for a solution,” he added.

Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian spokeswoman, said in a statement that in withdrawing support for a two-state solution, the Trump administration “would be destroying the chances for peace and undermining American interests, standing and credibility abroad.”

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

State Department officials expressed surprise at the comments and said they were not aware of any policy shift on the desirability of a two-state solution.

Netanyahu and Trump are to meet at the White House. They will hold a joint news conference before convening for meetings and a working lunch. The Israeli leader will then head to Capitol Hill for meetings with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Trump and Netanyahu are likely to discuss peace efforts, expanded Israeli settlements and Iran — as well as Trump’s campaign pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The embassy move would signal U.S. 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.


Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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