Cardin, Van Hollen respond to Trump on Middle East, continue to support two-state solution

Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md. (Lauren Victoria Burke / AP)

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ben Cardin, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questioned President Donald Trump's decision to break with decades of U.S. foreign policy by suggesting a two-state solution is not a prerequisite for peace in the Middle East.

Trump made the statement during a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday. It was Netanyahu's first visit to the White House since Trump's election.


"I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like," Trump told reporters. "I can live with either one."

That's a departure from past policy embraced by presidents of both parties. The United States formally backed a two-state solution as official policy in 2002, when President George W. Bush said that his vision was "two states, living side by side in peace and security."


Cardin said Wednesday that "there is no other option."

"The only solution for peace in the Middle East between the Palestinians and Israelis is two states living side-by-side in peace -- a Palestinian state and a Jewish state," the Maryland lawmaker said.

"There needs to be security, security for the Israelis and security for the Palestinians. This has been the view of the United States and the international community. It has been the view of the Israelis and the Palestinians," Cardin said in a statement.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland's other senator, agreed.

"For decades, under both Democratic and Republican presidents, the United States has believed that a two-state solution is central to peace and stability in the Middle East," Van Hollen said in a statement. "I believe that model remains the best way to bring peace to the region, maintain Israel's security, and meet the aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians."

A senior White House official told reporters Tuesday that the new president is eager to begin facilitating a peace deal between the two sides. It will be up to the Israelis and Palestinians to determine what peace will entail, said the official. Peace, not a two-state solution, is the goal, the official said.

Trump offered unwavering support for Israel on Wednesday but also, at one point during the press conference, turned to Netanyahu and asked him to "hold back on settlements for a bit."

That was a reference to Netanyahu's decision to approve construction of more than 6,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories Israel seized in the 1967 Mideast War. Trump's position is consistent with past U.S. presidents, though he offered conflicting statements on settlements during his campaign.

Netanyahu indicated he is open to some sort of arrangement.

"We'll work something out but I'd like to see a deal be made. I think a deal will be made," he said.

Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said he remains "hopeful that a solution can be found to bring peace and security to the region.

"Clearly, direct negotiations among the different parties is necessary to enable this to happen," he said in a statement.


Separately on Wednesday, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called on Netanyahu to end settlement building and expressed "willingness to resume a credible peace process."

The Associated Press contributed to this article. 

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