In his first joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Trump said on Wednesday that the United States would ultimately leave the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal up to the respective nations.
The two leaders met face-to-face for the first time since Trump's victory in the 2016 presidential election, even as Palestinians urged the White House not to abandon their goal of an independent state.
Among the questions expected to figure prominently on the agenda was the future of the two-state solution – the idea of creating a Palestine living peacefully alongside Israel, which has been a bedrock U.S. position.
In a potential shift, a senior White House official said on Tuesday that peace did not necessarily have to entail Palestinian statehood, and Trump would not try to "dictate" a solution.
The U.S. has a decades-long history of emphasizing a Palestinian state as an essential part of a peace deal between Israel and Palestine -- an agenda the 45th president moved away from in his Wednesday remarks.
"I'm looking at two states and one state," President Trump said. "I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one."
"We will be working on it very, very diligently. But it is the parties themselves who must directly negotiate such an agreement," Trump said.
A retreat from U.S. backing for a two-state solution would upend decades of U.S. policy embraced by Republican and Democratic administrations and a principle considered the core of international peace efforts.
Netanyahu committed, with conditions, to the two-state goal in a speech in 2009 and has broadly reiterated the aim since. But he has also spoken of a "state minus" option, suggesting he could offer the Palestinians deep-seated autonomy and the trappings of statehood without full sovereignty.
Palestinians reacted with alarm to the possibility that Washington might ditch its support for an independent Palestinian nation.
"If the Trump administration rejects this policy it would be destroying the chances for peace and undermining American interests, standing and credibility abroad," Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in response to the U.S. official's remarks.
"Accommodating the most extreme and irresponsible elements in Israel and in the White House is no way to make responsible foreign policy," she said in a statement.
Husam Zomlot, strategic adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians had not received any official indication of a change in the U.S. stance.
For Netanyahu, the talks with Trump are an opportunity to reset ties after a frequently combative relationship with Democrat Barack Obama, Trump's predecessor. After speaking to reporters, the two leaders were due to hold talks in the Oval Office followed by a working lunch.
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The prime minister, under investigation at home over allegations of abuse of office, spent much of Tuesday huddled with advisers in Washington preparing for the talks. Officials said they wanted no gaps to emerge between U.S. and Israeli thinking during the scheduled two-hour Oval Office meeting.
Trump, who has been in office less than four weeks and has already been immersed in problems including the forced resignation of his national security adviser earlier this week, brings with him an unpredictability that Netanyahu's staff hope will not impinge on the discussions.
The two leaders, who seemed to strike up an emerging "bromance" in social media exchanges since the election, sought to demonstrate good personal chemistry face-to-face as well, both sporting smiles and exchanging asides.
Meetings with Obama were at best cordial and businesslike, at worst tense and awkward. In one Oval Office encounter in 2011, Obama grimaced as Netanyahu lectured him in front of the cameras on the suffering of the Jewish people through the ages.
Christina Gregg contributed to this report