Israel approves first new settlement in UNESCO-protected Hebron in 15 years

Israel approves first new settlement in UNESCO-protected Hebron in 15 years
Israel has approved 31 new settlement homes in the city of Hebron in the West Bank for the first time in 15 years.

Hebron is the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank and is home to a population of about 1,000 Israeli settlers who live in the middle of the Old City.

The new houses will be built for the Beit Romano settlement on what used to be a bus station on Shuhada Street. The Civil Administration’s Licensing Subcommittee approved the permits, but said they are subject to conditions, including appeal, the Times of Israel reports.

The Times of Israel and the Jewish Press report the approval was seen as an Israeli response to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) recent decision to list Hebron’s Old City as an “endangered Palestinian World Heritage Site.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved a number of new settlements this year. The building of settlements on land in the Palestinian Territories is perceived as an obstacle to the peace process and is considered a violation of article 49 of the Geneva Convention.

Settlement advocates say even though there has been a number of announcements of new settlement construction, only a fraction may actually be built in the end, Reuters reports.

“The permits approved today would increase the number of settlers in Hebron by 20 percent,” Hagit Ofran of Israeli Peace Now told RT. “They required significant legal acrobatics that might not stand the test of the High Court of Justice. While doing everything in his power to please a small group of settlers, Netanyahu is harming Israel’s morality and image abroad, while crushing basic values of human rights and dignity.”

“We thank the prime minister, government ministers, Knesset members and all public figures who worked with determination and dedication together with us to promote this construction,” the Jewish community of Hebron said in a statement, the Jewish News reports. “We ask everyone to ensure that the construction is indeed carried out without delay.”

The last time settlements were approved in Hebron was in 2002, when 10 units were built in Tel Rumeida.

Courtesy: RT

Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas begin unity talks in Cairo

Both sides voiced optimism as talks began in the Egyptian capital, with a top Hamas representative saying he was “full of hope” for reconciliation. Egypt has been instrumental in bringing the two sides together.

Gazastreifen Graffiti in Gaza Stadt Aussöhnung Hamad und Fatah (picture-alliance/Zumapress)

Delegates from rival Palestinian parties Fatah and Hamas met in Cairo on Tuesday for talks on bringing the Gaza Strip under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

The Islamist group Hamas wrested control of Gaza from the mainstream Fatah party in 2007.

Now mediators in Egypt are engaged in yet another attempt to facilitate true power sharing between the two in Gaza and the West Bank.

Read more: What are Fatah and Hamas?

Representatives from both sides voiced optimism ahead of the talks being held behind closed doors.

What Hamas representative Izzat Reshiq said:

–     “We meet in Cairo full of hope to draw and lay down a road map entitled national reconciliation.”

What Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said:

–     “The dialogue committee for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas started work under Egyptian sponsorship” adding the talks “began in the headquarters of the Egyptian intelligence to examine the files to enable a Palestinian national unity government to work in the Gaza Strip.”

What Azzam al-Ahmad, head of the Fatah delegation, said:

–     The main aim of the talks is “empowering the government in Gaza.”

What the Fatah cabinet said:

–     “The cabinet hopes the national dialogue session in Cairo will succeed in achieving reconciliation and reunite the homeland. It expresses readiness to assume full duties in Gaza Strip as soon at the factions have clinched an agreement.”

What Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said:

–     Palestinians should not fall for “bogus reconciliations.”

Read more: Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel will not accept ‘bogus’ Palestinian reconciliation deal

Netanyahu also repeating calls for Hamas to disband its military arm. Hamas said that point was not up for discussion.

Major points of discussion at the talks will be security, scheduling presidential and legislative elections and an overhaul of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which is in charge of peace negotiations with Israel.

Watch video03:31

Q&A with Tania Krämer on Hamas’s concessions to Fatah over Gaza

js/rt (AFP, Reuters)

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Israel plans to close broadcaster Al-Jazeera’s offices

Israel has announced plans to close the local offices of Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based international news network. Israeli officials have long accused the broadcaster of bias against the Jewish state.

Al-Dschasira Katar (picture alliance/dpa/T.Brakemeier)

Israel’s communications minister announced on Sunday that he wanted to shut down the operations of Qatar-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera in the country.

BREAKING: Israel to shut Al Jazeera offices in Jerusalem and revoke credentials of its journalists. More soon on http://Aljazeera.com pic.twitter.com/0AxSMbtIWE

Ayoob Kara said he wanted the press cards of employees of the network revoked and to have their Jerusalem office closed, adding that he had asked cable providers to block Al-Jazeera’s transmissions. He said that cable broadcasters had agreed to his proposal to take the station’s Arabic and English channels off the air. Closure of the station’s office would require further legislation, he added.

Kara claimed that the station was used by militant groups to “incite” violence, accusing the network of “supporting terrorism” and saying that it was “delusional” that Arab states in the Middle East had banned Al-Jazeera for that reason but Israel had not.

“Lately, almost all countries in our region determined that Al-Jazeera supports terrorism, supports religious radicalization,” Kara said. “And when we see that all these countries have determined as fact that Al-Jazeera is a tool of the Islamic State, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, and we are the only one who have not determined that, then something delusional is happening here,” he said.

Jordan and Saudi Arabia have closed Al-Jazeera’s local offices, while the channel and its affiliate sites have been blocked in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain.

The latter four Arab states have included shutting down Al-Jazeera in a list of demands made to Qatar, which they accuse of supporting extremists.

Netanyahu resolute to ban Al-Jazeera

There was no timetable given for the implementation of the measures.

Watch video02:02

How will Qatar respond to list of demands?

Israeli officials have long accused Al-Jazeera of showing bias against the Jewish state. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has likened its coverage to “Nazi Germany-style” propaganda, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently accused the Arab satellite news broadcaster of “incitement” to violence.

“The Al-Jazeera channel continues to incite violence around the Temple Mount,” Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post on July 27, referring to the religious site in Jerusalem that is holy to both Muslims and Jews. The site saw violent clashes in recent weeks.

Netanyahu has, however, frequently criticized news media in general, accusing various outlets of seeking to undermine his government.

ss/tj (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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Netanyahu accuses German Foreign Minister Gabriel of ‘tactlessness’

Israeli PM Netanyahu has urged Germany’s foreign minister to avoid meeting with “radical fringe groups.” Earlier this week, Netanyahu canceled a meeting with Sigmar Gabriel just after Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel.

Israel Benjamin Netanjahu (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Sultan)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Germany’s foreign minister of meeting with “radical fringe groups,” days after the right-wing leader snubbed Sigmar Gabriel for meeting with human rights organizations.

In an interview with the German daily “Bild,” Netanyahu called Gabriel’s meeting with two human rights groups critical of the Israeli military’s treatment of Palestinians and occupation of the West Bank “tactless.”

“I find it extremely tactless for such a meeting (with “Breaking the Silence” and B’Tselem) to take place at this time,” Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, he said. “On this day we mourn the murdered members of our people and our fallen soldiers.”

Gabriel’s visit with groups “Breaking the Silence” and B’Tselem came a day after Israel commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day, when Gabriel attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the Yad Vashem memorial alongside Netanyahu.

B’Tselem is a prominent NGO that records human rights abuses and Jewish settlement building in Palestinian territories. “Breaking the Silence” documents testimony from ex-Israeli soldiers about abuses committed against Palestinians.

The Israeli prime minster added that he had attempted to explain his actions to Gabriel, “but he refused a telephone call,” said Netanyahu. The German foreign ministry refutes the claim.

Sigmar Gabriel in JerusalemGerman Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (left) on Mount Zion in Jerusalem this week

Netanyahu, who overseas the most right-wing coalition in Israel’s history, has roiled relations with Germany over continued illegal settlement building in the West Bank and a crackdown on critical civil society groups. Berlin is concerned Israeli policies are veering away from a two-state solution. 

The prime minister’s decision to cancel a scheduled meeting Gabriel was criticized by Israel’s liberal opposition, but backed by the right-wing and Netanyahu’s allies.

Analysts suggested that Netanyahu’s decision was in part a move to gain political points among the right-wing on the domestic front, something Gabriel also noted when he commented that Germany cannot become “a political football for Israeli domestic politics.” Notably, Gabriel’s visit with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin went ahead.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesperson defended the foreign minister.

“In a democracy it should be possible for foreign visitors to speak without problems to critical representatives of civil society,” Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said earlier this week.

Both sides have sought to downplay the row’s impact on long-term relations.

Watch video26:00

Hanan Ashrawi on Conflict Zone

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Netanyahu’s honeymoon with Trump ends abruptly

Story highlights

  • Trump walked back his promise to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and criticized the settlements
  • In addition to the political pressure Netanyahu faces, he is under criminal investigation

Jerusalem (CNN)This was supposed to be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory lap.

After a combined 10 years leading the government, he finally had a Republican president in the White House, with a Republican House and Senate to boot. It should have been the perfect match for Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition.
The prime minister would be free of the condemnation of construction in West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements that became routine under former President Barack Obama, the right wing believed. President Donald Trump would allow Israel to build and build freely.
Within 10 days of Trump’s inauguration, Israel approved plans for more than 6,000 housing units in settlements as well as the first brand-new settlement municipality in the West Bank in nearly two decades.
Heaping praise upon Trump at their first news conference together in Washington, Netanyahu said: “There is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.” Vice President Mike Pence is expected to also receive a warm reception when he addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at its large annual conference in Washington, which begins on Sunday.
And the settlement movement rejoiced at the new White House leadership.
“I think (Trump) loves Israel,” said Chaim Silberstein, spokesman for the Beit El settlement outside of Ramallah. “I think he loves the biblical heartland of Israel, which is here.” Some even spoke in messianic terms.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party and one of the most outspoken Israeli opponents of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, declared after the elections, “The era of a Palestinian state is over.”
But for Netanyahu, the honeymoon period lasted less than two months.
Trump quickly walked back his oft-repeated campaign promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and he criticized Israeli settlements as “not good” for peace.
At their joint White House appearance, Trump told Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a bit.” Trump wanted a chance to conclude what he called “the ultimate deal”: peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
On Thursday, after two rounds of talks spanning the US and the Middle East, the White House put out a statement saying that the American delegation “reiterated President Trump’s concerns regarding settlement activity in the context of moving towards a peace agreement,” adding, “The Israeli delegation made clear that Israel’s intent going forward is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes those concerns into consideration.”
Netanyahu now finds himself walking a tight-rope between a new president interested in a peace deal and an empowered right-wing determined to sink the two-state solution once and for all. In the face of this political pressure and a corruption investigation, it is increasingly possible that the Israeli leader may soon have to face elections.
Ever the cautious politician, Netanyahu had previously warned his governing coalition — which includes Jewish Home and Netanyahu’s own Likud Party — not to celebrate too much over Trump’s victory. He even forbade his ministers, Bennett included, from speaking to Washington officials without his approval, especially about settlements and annexation.
But after Trump’s inauguration, Israel’s right-wing felt there was no reason to hold back. The pressure on Netanyahu from Jewish Home and even those within Likud kept growing.
For Netanyahu, building in the settlements isn’t just a promise he’s made to the approximately 420,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank; it is also about long-term political survival, as Netanyahu and Bennett battle for the same right-wing constituency.
Netanyahu has boasted that there is no government that will be more pro-settlement than the current one, and he can’t afford to be outflanked on the right by his own coalition partners. At the same time, no Israeli leader — on the right or left — would risk angering Israel’s primary international ally.
“I think we can say now what is clear is that if the right in Israel thought that Mr. Trump is going to join Mr. Bennett’s party, it made a very grave mistake,” Yehuda Ben Meir, a principal research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies told CNN. “As I think any intelligent person can realize, Donald Trump is President of the United States. The United States has interests throughout the world.”
Ben Meir continued, “To a certain degree, Mr. Netanyahu has really locked himself into this dilemma, and we will have to see how he maneuvers through it. … It depends on what is the position of President Trump. It’s not clear yet.”
The tension was evident in mid-March in Netanyahu’s first meeting with Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations.
Greenblatt, who served as Trump’s business attorney before becoming an adviser on Israel, may have seemed likely to be in sync with the Israeli Prime Minister. Before the elections, he wrote an op-ed for CNN insisting that Trump would recognize Jerusalem as the eternal, undivided capital of Israel and would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Those moves, warned the Palestinian leadership that sees East Jerusalem as its capital in any future Palestinian state, would essentially sink the process of forging a two-state solution.
In a meeting that lasted more than five hours, Greenblatt and Netanyahu reaffirmed the strong bond between the United States and Israel, with the former emphasizing Trump’s commitment to Israel’s security. But the statement addressing the settlements issued Thursday made clear that the US is looking for Israel to rein in construction.
So far, the parties have not found a framework for settlement construction acceptable to Trump and Netanyahu. After marathon meetings between Greenblatt, Netanyahu Chief of Staff Yoav Horowitz and Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, the two sides still had not finalized an agreement. Trump’s “concerns regarding settlement activity” remained. So did Netanyahu’s desire to keep building.
One day after Netanyahu’s first meeting with Greenblatt, Trump’s envoy met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. According to a readout of that meeting, Abbas stressed the Palestinian commitment to a two-state solution, while Greenblatt emphasized Trump’s desire for peace through direct negotiations.
The statement mentioned the possibility of a meeting in Washington between Abbas and Trump — which would only ratchet up the pressure on Netanyahu to make concessions if Abbas presents himself as a partner for peace, willing to compromise for the sake of an agreement.
Israel’s right, however, wants to move in the other direction. During Greenblatt’s visit earlier in the month, politicians from Jewish Home and Likud had planned to introduce a bill to annex Ma’ale Adumim, a West Bank settlement just outside Jerusalem.
Israel has never annexed any part of the West Bank it captured in the 1967 war outside of East Jerusalem. Israeli settlements there are illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this on historical and religious grounds.
“Trump is genuinely interested in making peace. He’s been very consistent about that. I think he sees it as a personal challenge,” said Chemi Shalev, a senior columnist with Haaretz, an Israeli daily newspaper. “And he had to get over bad relations with Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, and part of that is that the Saudis have made it clear to him that if he’s thinking of creating (a regional) anti-Iranian bloc, at least part of that has to be a semblance of a peace process with the Palestinians.”
To some degree, President Barack Obama’s deep opposition to settlements helped Netanyahu navigate the thorny politics of the issue. It gave him the political cover to satisfy the right wing with only small steps on settlements — making the case that he could do not more — so that he didn’t face major blowback from the US, international community and Israeli center and left.
Trump is making some signs that he’s no fan of settlements either, but the right doesn’t see his opposition as stiff enough to warrant Netanyahu caving in and therefore is unlikely to be satisfied with small steps. (For one thing, both the President and his pick for ambassador to Israel have given money to the Beit El settlement’s schools.)
The current term of Israel’s government runs until late 2019. Few think it will last that long.
In addition to the political pressure Netanyahu faces, he is under criminal investigation in a corruption probe, suspected of receiving gifts from overseas businessmen. So far, he has been questioned by police four times, though police and the attorney general’s office have been guarded with information about the investigation.
Netanyahu has sworn the investigations will lead to nothing, as they did when he was investigated in his first term as prime minister in the late ’90s. But an indictment would put political and public pressure on him to step down despite his promise not to do so. Under Israeli law, he has to step down only if he is convicted and if that conviction is upheld through the appeals process.
As the investigation inches along, election fever is in the air. Three parties have called for early primaries.
Netanyahu’s former defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, announced he has split off from the Likud to form his own party. Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid centrist party and one of Netanyahu’s primary rivals, has been running even with Netanyahu’s party in recent polls. Right-wing Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel has promised to leave Netanyahu’s coalition if the premier agrees to any limitation on settlement construction.
“Even though (the coalition) doesn’t want elections, there’s a growing sense that elections may be around the corner in any case, and in that case the Jewish Home will press on with the annexation of Ma’ale Adumim and will attack whatever arrangements Netanyahu has with Trump,” said Shalev. “It’ll go from bad to worse from the point of view of the stability of the coalition.”
Netanyahu himself threatened elections one week ago, despite strenuous objections from his coalition and his own party. Critics have pointed out that calling an election would also, under Israeli law, freeze the criminal investigation of Netanyahu. It may also be a way of keeping the smaller parties in the coalition in line.
It is a sign of the instability in a government that was supposed to be reinforced by Trump’s victory, not undermined. Netanyahu finds himself trying to balance the demands of his own coalition with the unpredictable expectations of a president who is not the partner Israel’s right wing thought it was getting.

Is 2-State Solution Dead? In Israel, a Debate Over What’s Next

Photo

An Israeli soldier last month on a street that separates an Israeli settlement and a Palestinian neighborhood inside the West Bank city of Hebron. President Trump’s comments on a two-state solution have prompted confusion in the region. CreditChris McGrath/Getty Images

JERUSALEM — The huge billboard images appeared overnight in Tel Aviv: a menacing crowd of Palestinians making the V for victory sign and bearing a legend in Arabic, “Soon we will be the majority.”

One interpretation of that inevitability was explained in Hebrew for those who dialed the number on the billboard: If Israel does not act to separate itself from the Palestinians, it will be less secure, less democratic and less Jewish. The provocative — many said racist — campaign was kicked off last month by retired Israeli generals and senior officers to shake Israelis out of apathy.

President Trump accomplished something similar over the course of just a few seconds on Wednesday, when, standing beside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, he declared that he was “looking at two-state and one-state” formulas for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I like the one that both parties like,” he added, seemingly overturning decades of American policy centered on the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Purposefully or not, Mr. Trump had suddenly implied that the long-proposed solution of two states did not really matter.

By Thursday, Israelis and Palestinians were feverishly debating what might come next, still confused about American policy after Mr. Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, reasserted that the administration “absolutely” supported two states.

What were the viable options other than the two-state solution? One state with equal rights for both Israelis and Palestinians? A dominant Israeli state alongside a defined Palestinian region with statelike but curtailed powers? Would either side ever settle for less than everything?

Over decades, Palestinians have watched Jewish settlements spread over land they consider theirs for a future state and concluded that Israel did not intend to concede it. Many of them, particularly those in Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, still do not recognize Israel at all.

Many Israelis believe that they have repeatedly made good offers that were refused, and that Palestinians are irrevocably split between the West Bank and Gaza, with no unified leadership to negotiate with. Good will, they say, has been met by rocket fire.

Now, the Israeli political establishment, moving rightward, clearly believes it is the time to put its thumb on the scale.

“I think what the president and prime minister were saying was any solution is possible and now we have to look at alternative solutions, and there are alternative solutions,” said Michael Oren, a deputy minister for diplomacy in Mr. Netanyahu’s office.

These, Mr. Oren told reporters, could involve “interim measures and recognition of the fact that there may be a two-state reality on the ground, which may not conform to what we know as a two-state solution, but would enable the Palestinians to lead their lives in prosperity and security” — and also benefit Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu, weakened by corruption investigations and under pressure from right-wing politicians who oppose a Palestinian state, has recently been evasive about his support for a two-state solution. It depended, he said in Washington, on what the Palestinians had in mind: “What are we talking about? Are we talking about Costa Rica, or are we talking about another Iran?”

Mostly, Mr. Netanyahu appears to want to solidify Israeli control over the occupied West Bank and manage the conflict. That basically means maintaining the current situation of Palestinian cantons divided by growing Israeli settlements and surrounded by Israeli forces.

Mr. Netanyahu has referred to it as a “state-minus” — implying the Palestinians would get some statelike autonomy, and that would be enough. Critics call it a creeping one-state reality, and certainly not the “ultimate deal” that Mr. Trump says he hopes to achieve.

Some analysts chalk up Mr. Trump’s flippancy to a lack of knowledge, because one thing many Palestinians and Israelis do agree on is that a one-state formula will not bring peace.

“One state is not an option,” said Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian political scientist at Birzeit University in the West Bank, noting that Israel, which was established to give Jews self-determination, would never give all Palestinians the vote. “We are talking two states or no solution, a continuation of the status quo,” he said.

Continue reading the main story

Photo

A Palestinian worker building a new house in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Over decades, Palestinians have watched Jewish settlements spread over land they consider theirs for a future state.CreditChris Mcgrath/Getty Images

Trump relaxes US policy on Middle East two-state solution

Media captionTrump and Netanyahu – in 90 seconds

US President Donald Trump has dropped decades of US policy insisting on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At a news conference with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr Trump promised to deliver a “great” peace deal, but said both sides must compromise.

The Israelis and Palestinians have had no substantive peace talks since 2014.

In the conference, Mr Trump also asked his visitor to “hold back” on settlement building for “a little bit”.

Israel has approved thousands of new homes in West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements since Mr Trump took office last month.

Embassy issue

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

At Wednesday’s press conference, neither leader committed explicitly to back a future independent Palestine, a longstanding bedrock of US policy.

Grey line

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.

Reconsidering the two-state solution

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“So I’m looking at two states and one state,” said Mr Trump. “And I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like.

“I can live with either one. I thought for a while that two states looked like it may be the easier of the two.

“To be honest, if Bibi [Mr Netanyahu] and the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy – I’m happy with the one they like the best.”

Media captionTrump’s view on the two-state solution

He said it would ultimately be up to the parties themselves to reach a peace agreement.

Mr Trump was also asked about his election promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which could have serious implications for any peace negotiations.

“As far as the embassy moving to Jerusalem, I’d love to see that happen,” Mr Trump said.

“And we’re looking at it very, very strongly. We’re looking at it with a great care, a great care, believe me. And we’ll see what happens.”

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

Media captionNetanyahu and Trump: What are their key priorities?

“There are two prerequisites for peace,” said the Israeli prime minister. “First the Palestinians must recognise the Jewish state.

“Second, in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.”

Meanwhile the Palestinian presidency stressed its commitment to a two-state solution and an end to the Israeli occupation, Reuters news agency reported. Earlier officials had urged the White House not to abandon the concept of a Palestinian state.

The presidency said it was ready to “deal positively” with the Trump administration, and agreed with Mr Trump’s call for Israel to hold off on settlement building.

It was the US and Israeli leaders’ first face-to-face meeting since Mr Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election.

A retreat from US backing for a two-state solution would upend decades of American – and international – policy embraced by Republican and Democratic administrations.

A Palestinian holds the Palestinian flag during a protest in the West Bank village of Twani, near Hebron, 10 February 2017.Image copyrightEPA
Image captionThe idea of creating an independent Palestinian state that co-exists with Israel has underpinned Middle East peace policy for decades

On Tuesday, a senior White House official signalled a potential policy shift by saying peace did not necessarily have to entail Palestinian statehood, and that Mr Trump would not try to “dictate” a solution.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem – land Palestinians claim for a future state.

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

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Travelling with Netanyahu – Gidi Kleiman, BBC Middle East producer

A relatively large group of journalists followed Mr Netanyahu from Israel to cover his first meeting with President Trump. A lot was at stake, especially after the eight years of the strained relations with the Obama administration.

Ahead of the meeting, the general sentiment among them concerned the lack of clarity on how the meeting between the two leaders would go. Whether they will get along and mostly what will be said on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the two-state solution, a formula which has been a long-term tenet of US and Israeli policy.

Waiting in the East Room for the press conference, journalists were filing reports, posting on social media and also getting their selfies taken with White House insignias. So did Israeli officials.

The two leaders entered the room, and as very warm words were exchanged, it looked like the turning of a page in the relationship between the two countries.

But perhaps it was also another turning point, departing from the two-state solution formula, a term they avoided using. Their confidence gave the impression that some sort of regional deal is perhaps already being explored with moderate Arab countries. The journalists were left guessing how this will play out or, as Trump put it, “we will see”.