Rift with Trump: UN and Arab heads endorse 2-state solution

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives the thumbs-up as he is escorted to his car by President Donald Trump as he leaves the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

JERUSALEM — The United Nations and the Arab League on Thursday issued a joint statement in support of the establishment of a Palestinian state, exposing a rift with President Donald Trump, who says it's up to Israel and the Palestinians to agree on the form of a final settlement.

The statement came a day after Trump and the visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to endorse the two-state solution as the preferred outcome of peace talks, abandoning what has been the cornerstone of U.S.-led peace efforts for two decades.

After a meeting in Cairo, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said they agreed the two-state solution is "the only way to achieve comprehensive and just settlement to the Palestinian cause."

The statement put them at odds with Trump, who said at a White House meeting with Netanyahu that Mideast peace does not necessarily have to include the establishment of a Palestinian state. Trump said he could accept a two-state solution or a single-state arrangement if it is agreed upon by all sides. Netanyahu also was cool to the idea of an independent Palestine, saying he did not want to deal with "labels."

The Trump administration appeared to backpedal on Thursday, with U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley saying the United States absolutely supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that anyone who thinks it doesn't is in "error."

The Palestinians and the international community have long favored the establishment of an independent Palestinian state as the preferred way to peace in the region. Last month, days before Trump took office, representatives from dozens of countries reiterated the need for a two-state solution.

In New York, the U.N.'s Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, urged "leaders on both sides to carefully contemplate the future they envision for their people." He said they would need to choose between "perpetual conflict" or "mutual respect."

If Israel continues to control the occupied West Bank, the thinking goes, it will eventually have to give millions of Palestinians citizenship and voting rights, endangering the country's status as a democracy with a Jewish majority.

But Netanyahu's governing coalition is dominated by hard-liners opposed to Palestinian statehood, citing the West Bank's value as a security asset and its connection to Jewish history.

A new poll released Thursday showed the number of Israelis and Palestinians who support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state has dropped in recent months. But far more people continue to prefer the two-state solution to an alternative single-state arrangement.

The poll found that 55 percent of Israelis and 44 percent of Palestinians support a two-state arrangement. That was down from 59 percent and 51 percent support last June. Yet just 24 percent of Israelis and one-third of Palestinians prefer a single binational state, the poll found.

The EU-funded poll was conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. It questioned over 1,200 people on each side in December and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

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Associated Press writer Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.

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