Middle East

Israel-Palestinian conflict: US 'thinking outside box'

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Media captionTrump and Netanyahu - in 90 seconds

The US ambassador to the UN has said her country "absolutely" supports the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

But Nikki Haley also said the Trump administration was "thinking outside the box as well", suggesting it was open to other possible solutions.

For many years, the US has advocated the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel.

But Mr Trump indicated on Wednesday he would not insist on that.

Viewpoint - 'A subtle but vital shift in US policy'

The last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down in 2014.

"We absolutely support the two-state solution but we are thinking out of the box as well," Ms Haley said on Thursday, "which is - what does it take to bring these two sides to the table? what do we need to have them agree on?"

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She spoke out after UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned President Trump there was "no alternative" to a two-state solution.

Speaking alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a day earlier, Mr Trump promised to deliver a "great" peace deal for the Middle East.

But he said both sides must compromise and that it was ultimately up to them to decide how to settle the conflict.

"So I'm looking at two states and one state," he said. "And I like the one that both parties like."

What is the two-state solution?

A "two-state solution" to the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is the declared goal of their leaders and the international community.

It is the shorthand for a final settlement that would see the creation of an independent state of Palestine within pre-1967 ceasefire lines in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, living peacefully alongside Israel.

The UN, the Arab League, the European Union, Russia and, until now, the US routinely restate their commitment to the concept.

When he was asked about a two-state solution on Wednesday, Mr Netanyahu said he wanted to focus on "substance" and not "labels".

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, said he remained committed to the goal of statehood.

He also seized on President Trump's comments urging Mr Netanyahu to "hold back on settlements for a little bit".

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Media captionTrump's view on the two-state solution

Since Mr Trump took office last month, Israel has approved thousands of new homes in West Bank and East Jerusalem, land claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Alternative concepts to a two-state solution:

  • Unitary, bi-national state: A single country of Israel and the occupied territories, with equal rights for Israel and Palestinians. Advocated for years by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) but opposed by many Israeli Jews, who say absorbing a large Arab population would mean national suicide
  • "State-minus": Favoured by Benjamin Netanyahu, offering Palestinians enhanced self-rule without full statehood, with a permanent Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley. Rejected by Palestinians as unacceptable.
  • Confederation: Sometimes referred to as the "three-state solution" comprising an Israeli and/or Palestinian confederation with Jordan, the majority of whose population is Palestinian. Floated as an idea down the years but has never taken root as an option favoured by any of the parties.
  • Unilateral withdrawal: Also known as "constructive unilateralism". Envisages an Israeli pull-back on its terms from parts of the West Bank, setting its own borders and separating itself from the bulk of the Palestinian population. Assumes failure of peace process and has no support among international community.

Reconsidering the two-state solution

The Israeli government is hoping for better relations with the White House after eight years of friction with the former Obama administration.

But France, which in January organised a multi-national conference which reaffirmed support for a two-state solution alone, seemed unimpressed with the apparent change in direction.

Its ambassador to the UN, Francois Delattre, told reporters "our commitment to the two-state solution is stronger than ever", according to AFP news agency.

Regional media reaction: Refreshing or reckless?

In pro-Netanyahu Israeli daily Yisrael Hayom, Boaz Bismuth welcomes a "more refreshing era" in Washington, saying Mr Trump's comments show he is "good for the Jews."

But Barack Ravid - in left-of-centre Ha'aretz - accuses Mr Trump of acting "recklessly" in apparently conflating the one-state and two-state plans.

Shimon Schiffer - in centrist Yedioth Aharonoth - makes a similar point, saying Trump adopted the "tone of someone for whom it is not really important whether he orders a portion or half a portion of falafel."

For the pro-Fatah Palestinian newspaper al-Quds, Mr Trump has shown he is close to Israel's position, and that the two-state solution has "withered".

In Gaza's Hamas-run Filastin daily, Fayez Abu-Shammala says it is "wonderful" that the White House has shown its "real position" rather than acting as "an enemy pretending to be a friend". He adds that the "time for resistance has come".

Meanwhile, Mr Trump's choice for America's next ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, faced repeated heckling at his confirmation hearing before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday.

He apologised for having likened left-wing American Jews to Jewish prisoners who worked for the Nazis during the Holocaust and pledged that in an official capacity he would tone down his language.

The right-winger is a strong critic of the two-state solution, supports Jewish settlement building and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.

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Image caption David Friedman advised Mr Trump during his election campaign

Five former US ambassadors to Israel have written a letter to committee members declaring him unqualified because of his "extreme, radical positions", AP says.

Asked on Wednesday about his campaign promise of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, Mr Trump said: "We'll see what happens."

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their promised future state - but Israel claims the entire city as its undivided capital.