President Donald Trump will express support for Palestinian “self-determination” during a Middle East trip this month, a senior aide said on Friday, suggesting Trump is open to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict despite not having publicly embraced the idea so far.
The comment by U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster came just nine days after a White House visit by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in which Trump vowed to seek a historic peace deal but stopped short of explicitly recommitting to the eventual goal of Palestinian statehood, a longtime bedrock of U.S. policy.
Previewing Trump’s first foreign trip, McMaster also said he would use a visit to Saudi Arabia, his first stop, to encourage Arab and Muslim partners to take “bold new steps” to confront those from Iran, Islamic State, al Qaeda and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government "who perpetuate chaos and violence."
Trump’s travels, which begin late next week and will also include stops in Israel and Rome, are intended to “broadcast a message of unity” by visiting holy sites of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, McMaster told reporters.
Trump’s meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, currently due to be held separately, will be closely watched for whether he begins to articulate a cohesive strategy to revive long-stalled negotiations. Most experts are skeptical of Trump’s chances of brokering a peace accord that eluded his predecessors.
Trump plans, in talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to "reaffirm America's unshakeable bond to the Jewish state" and in a meeting with Abbas to “express his desire for dignity and self-determination for the Palestinians,” said McMaster, a decorated Army general with extensive Middle East experience.
Trump is expected to meet Abbas, the Western-backed head of the Palestinian Authority, in Bethlehem in the West Bank, Palestinian sources say.
Palestinians were disappointed when Trump failed to mention a two-state solution in a joint appearance with Abbas on May 3.
Trump sparked international criticism in February when, during a news conference with Netanyahu, he appeared to back away from a longstanding U.S. commitment to Palestinian statehood, saying he would leave it up to the parties to decide.
An independent state is not only the aspiration of the vast majority of Palestinians but has been the objective of successive U.S. administrations and the international community.
Asked whether Trump would bring Netanyahu and Abbas together in the same room during the visit scheduled for May 22-23, McMaster said that would be up to the president and the other leaders. “The final plans aren’t set yet,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and David Alexander; Editing by Chris Reese and Mary Milliken)