JERUSALEM — Just minutes after President Trump made his first detailed remarks on the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Israelis began debating exactly what the new American leader meant.
Did Trump signal the end of the “two-state solution,” and the Palestinian dream of an independent nation, or not so much?
Some members of Israel’s right thought that’s what they heard during the White House news conference on Wednesday — but weren’t really sure.
Because Trump also warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that hard choices were on the horizon. Hard choices about what? Israelis wondered.
Trump didn’t say. Instead, he spoke of wanting a deal — but a deal about what? Peace.
And so, a torrent of punditry began.
Israelis were divided. In part, because Trump was touching on the deepest, most divisive, most personal matters in the region — land, religion, the future of a democratic Jewish state.
Many saw a new day. Others felt uneasy.
Some thought the president didn’t seem to know what he was talking about and was just throwing out words and phrases.
“Twitter was on fire after the news conference as tweeters on both sides of the Atlantic and from both sides of the political spectrum tried in both Hebrew and English to interpret the two leaders’ remarks, particularly Trump’s,” wrote Barak Ravid, chief diplomatic correspondent for the Haaretz newspaper.
One of Netanyahu’s hard-right cabinet members, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, thought Trump was giving Israel a green light to make plans to annex the 60 percent of the West Bank where 400,000 Jewish settlers live.
But in an interview, an Israel Radio reporter interjected that Trump also warned Netanyahu about the growth of Jewish settlements on the very land Shaked wants to claim for Israel.
“Everyone interprets this as they see fit,” Shaked replied, which pretty much summed things up. “When Netanyahu returns he will talk to the ministers, he will explain what happened in the meeting.”
“All we have is bits of rumors and guesses,” Shaked said.
The Times of Israel noted, “Pundits are out in greater numbers than reporters as the Hebrew media breaks down a troubling news conference in Washington.”
The reporter for the Israeli newspaper Maariv confessed, “Anyone who expected to understand how exactly the president of the United States wants to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was disappointed.”
Speaking at the U.N. Security Council session on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said, “We support the two-state solution, but we are thinking out of the box as well.”
It’s the “out of the box” part that Israelis are focused on.
Trump promised “a really great peace deal.”
“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” the president said.
Sima Kadmon, a columnist at Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, wrote, “There’s no disputing that Netanyahu received exactly what he wanted from the American president. One state, two states — what difference does it make? That is precisely the attitude that Netanyahu would like to see the American president adopt. Someone who doesn’t have the foggiest clue what he is talking about.”
One state could mean many things. If the Palestinians were given full rights, the vote, passports, this could be a game-changer. But few Israelis imagine that millions of Palestinians could soon be fellow citizens.
“I can live with either one,” Trump said. “I thought for a while that two-state looked like it might be the easier of the two, but . . . if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”
Trump didn’t elaborate on what he meant by “easier.” Three major U.S.-backed peace negotiations, as well as other efforts, have been framed around the goal of two states. All failed.
The president’s freewheeling rhetorical style leaves a lot of room for interpretation, and he has no background in the exacting diplomatic language usually used by U.S. officials when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli diplomat, told The Washington Post, “This is the president of the United States. He stands up and says what he says. And now it’s an open question whether two states is alive or dead? This is a major, major issue.”
“That both sides can now argue with equal passion and equal validity what he meant? That’s not a good thing,” Pinkas said.
At the news conference, Trump said, “The United States will encourage a peace, and really a great peace deal.”
“Both sides will have to make compromises. You know that, right?” he said, turning to Netanyahu.
“Both sides,” the prime minister answered.
On the front page of the pro-
Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth’s column was titled “Trump is Good for the Jews.”
In the left-wing Haaretz newspaper, there were headlines like “American Jewish Leaders Call Trump’s Comments ‘Terrifying’ and ‘Bizarre.’ ”
Trump warned Netanyahu over his government’s continued West Bank settlement construction, turning to the prime minister and saying, “I’d like you to hold off on settlements for a little bit.”
After the news conference, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, said it was not crystal clear whether Trump had approved more Jewish settlements or not.
Israeli education minister and leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, was celebrating. He wrote: “The flag of Palestine was removed today from the flagpole and has been replaced with the Israeli flag.”
Construction Minister Yoav Galant called Trump’s remarks “a historic speech.”
“We have a friend in the White House,” Galant said.
The leader of the Israeli opposition in the parliament, Labor leader Isaac Herzog, called the exchange between Trump and Netanyahu “sad and embarrassing.”
Herzog worried that a “one-state solution” — from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea — with equal numbers of Jews and Muslims, would mean the end of the Jewish state.
Gearan reported from Washington.