NEW YORK — President Trump hopes to release his Middle East peace plan within two to four months and conclude a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, if one can be made, during his first term in office, he said Wednesday.
Sitting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said he prefers an outcome that would give Palestinians a separate state. That is the most specific he has been about what he wants to help negotiate.
“I like two-state solution,” Trump said. “That’s what I think works best.”
A separate Palestinian state alongside Israel has been the stated goal of U.S. peacemaking efforts for two decades, but the Trump administration had until now declined to endorse it.
Trump had said previously that he would support a two-state outcome if that was what both sides wanted.
“I really believe something will happen. It is a dream of mine to be able to get that done before the end of my first term,” Trump said before he and Netanyahu met on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly.
At a news conference later Wednesday, Trump expanded on his preference for two states, observing that “in one way it’s more difficult, because it’s a real estate deal,” but “in another way it works better because you have people governing themselves.”
He called himself “a facilitator” who would help the two sides reach the deal they both prefer.
“I think probably two-state is more likely, but you know what? If they do a single, if they do a double, I’m okay with it if they’re both happy,” he said.
During their meeting, Trump put the Israeli leader on the spot by saying that his decision last year to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem must be reciprocated by Israeli concessions to the Palestinians.
“Israel will have to do something that will be good for the other side,” Trump said in response to questions from reporters.
Netanyahu did not respond. He has endorsed the goal of two states in the past, but members of his right-wing coalition oppose the idea.
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s right-wing education minister, immediately tweeted that his Jewish Home Party “is part of Israel’s Government, there will not be a Palestinian state which would be a disaster for Israel.”
Trump called the Jerusalem embassy move “probably the biggest chip” on the negotiating table. By removing it, Trump said, he had cleared the way for talks without one of the major obstacles that have sunk past peace efforts. He did not say how he wants Jerusalem’s status to be resolved, and he did not mention the Palestinian demand that a future state have its capital in East Jerusalem.
Trump said the plan will probably be released in “two, three, four months.”
That timeline — beginning after the November midterm election — is also more specific than Trump’s advisers have been about the next steps for a package deal that has been largely complete for months.
The plan, headed by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, is expected to address all the major issues in the seven-decade-old conflict. Trump said it will contain ideas that have not been tried before.
Trump predicted that the Palestinians will “100 percent” come to the bargaining table and said both sides want a deal.
Palestinian leaders have boycotted the Trump administration since December, when the president announced that the United States would now consider Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
The Trump administration said the announcement does not prejudge Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem or address the status of holy sites, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the move proved that Trump cannot be trusted to broker a fair deal.
Trump said he would like the agreement to be “solid, understood by both sides — really, semi-agreed to by both sides,” before formal negotiations begin.
Netanyahu thanked Trump for the embassy move, saying, “You changed history and you touched our hearts.”
The U.S. Embassy had been in Tel Aviv, about an hour’s drive away, so as not to show favoritism to either side.
“The Palestinians can have powers to govern themselves but they can’t have the powers to threaten Israel,” Netanyahu said in a news briefing with Israeli media outlets Wednesday. “Peace means that all hostilities cease, not giving the Palestinians means to escalate the conflict.”
Netanyahu’s goals for the meeting with Trump were more focused on Iran and new tensions with Russia over a downed Russian jet in Syria and the transfer of Russian S300 missiles to the Syrian army that could challenge Israel’s military advantage over its neighbors.
He did not make any public commitments to Trump about the peace plan or possible negotiations.
Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who led failed negotiations in President George W. Bush’s second term, met Tuesday night with Abbas in New York and urged him to reopen diplomatic channels with the United States.
“I welcome Trump’s words and the two things he said about the future of Israel — the steadfastness of the United States alongside Israel’s security and its support for the two-state solution. Both are important for our future,” Livni said.
Eglash reported from Jerusalem.