Mr. Trump’s position on a two-state solution discarded a policy that has underpinned America’s role in Middle East peacemaking since the Clinton administration and raised a host of thorny questions.
The Palestinians are highly unlikely to accept anything short of a sovereign state, and a single Israeli state encompassing the Palestinians would either leave them as second-class citizens or would no longer be majority Jewish, given the growth rate of the Arab population.
Still, long before Mr. Trump’s ascension, momentum for side-by-side states had faded not just in Washington but also in the Middle East, where many Israelis and Palestinians have given up hope or changed their minds about the concept. The leaders of both sides face domestic difficulties and seem unenthusiastic about the compromises that might be required to get to a mutually agreeable resolution.
The trick is that no one has offered a plausible alternative that would satisfy both camps, leaving the conflict in a state of suspended animation. Mr. Netanyahu is under pressure from his right-leaning coalition to abandon the two-state solution and even annex parts of the West Bank. And the Palestinian Authority faces pressure from Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza and is sworn to Israel’s destruction.
Mr. Trump did not address these dynamics, instead emphasizing his confidence that he could produce a breakthrough. “I think we’re going to make a deal,” he said, describing that as personally important to him. “It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand.”
He emphasized that Israel would have to be flexible in any future talks. “As with any successful negotiation, both sides will have to make compromises,” Mr. Trump said.
Turning to Mr. Netanyahu, he asked, “You know that, right?”
Mr. Netanyahu responded with a smile. “Both sides,” he said, emphasizing the first word.
Nonetheless, Mr. Netanyahu, who nominally supports a two-state solution, quickly embraced Mr. Trump’s declaration, saying he preferred to deal with the “substance” of a deal rather than “labels.”
He noted that the concept of a two-state solution meant different things to different people. And he repeated his two prerequisites: that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that Israel maintain security control over the entire West Bank. He said the obstacle to peace was Palestinian hatred, demonstrated by the building of statues to those who carry out terrorist attacks and the payment of salaries to their families. “This is the source of the conflict,” he said.
Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the two-state solution seemed reminiscent of his remark during the transition that the United States should not be bound by the decades-old “one China” policy that recognizes a single Chinese government in Beijing and withholds diplomatic ties from Taiwan. That statement infuriated the Chinese leadership, and Mr. Trump eventually circled back to endorse the policy.
If Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, several analysts said, he may inevitably find his way back to the two-state solution.
“If you do a systematic analysis of the situation, there is no other option,” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former United States ambassador to Israel and Egypt. “There are Israelis who believe they could get away with giving the Palestinians minimal political rights, but they are fooling themselves. Unless the Palestinians do a 180, it is just inconceivable.”
Palestinian leaders lamented Mr. Trump’s stance, seeing it as an abandonment by the United States, which has been the main patron of the Palestinian Authority. But Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Palestinians could draw comfort from Mr. Trump’s eagerness for a new peace push and his warning to Israel on settlements.
“They will see an opening in, how do you translate the president’s desire for peace into something concrete?” Mr. Omari said.
Mr. Trump and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, have been exploring an approach called the “outside-in” strategy, which involves enlisting Arab nations that have already found common cause with Israel against Iran, their mutual enemy, to help broker a settlement with the Palestinians.
Until now, Mr. Trump’s team has largely avoided conversations with Palestinian leaders. But Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, met with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, in Ramallah in the West Bank on Tuesday, according to news reports.
The idea of an independent Palestinian state comprising the West Bank and Gaza became the central theme of Middle East peacemaking in the 1990s after the Oslo Accords were signed. Bill Clinton was the first president to endorse a two-state solution, saying in a speech in January 2001, just two weeks before leaving office, that the conflict would never be settled without “a sovereign, viable Palestinian state.”
His successor, George W. Bush, picked that up later that year, becoming the first president to make it official American policy. Barack Obama considered a two-state solution the unquestionable bedrock of Washington’s approach. But those presidents never got to the point of an agreement between the two parties, and Mr. Trump picked as his ambassador to Israel a lawyer, David M. Friedman, who opposes the two-state solution.
Mr. Netanyahu looked forward to Mr. Trump’s inauguration as the first time in his four terms as prime minister that he would have a Republican president as a partner. After years of tension with Mr. Obama, who pressed Israel for more concessions for peace, Mr. Netanyahu anticipated vigorous support from the new president.
But Mr. Trump’s focus on the Palestinian conflict and his push for a pause in settlements distracted from the topic Mr. Netanyahu preferred to address, the threat from Iran. At the news conference, Mr. Trump again called Mr. Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen,” but said nothing about abandoning it or even renegotiating it. Instead, he simply vowed to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power. “I will do more to prevent Iran from ever developing — I mean ever — a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Nor did he repeat his campaign vow to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, saying only, “I’d love to see that happen” and, “We’ll see what happens.”
But he made a show of warmly welcoming Mr. Netanyahu, even inviting the prime minister’s wife, Sara, to stand during the news conference. The Israeli first lady was then treated to a museum tour by Mr. Trump’s wife, Melania.
Still, the president was pressed by an Israeli reporter about a rise in anti-Semitic attacks across the country since his election. The reporter asked what he would say to those “who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones.”
In a meandering response, Mr. Trump cited his victory in the Electoral College, then promised “to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism.” He pointed to Mr. Kushner, who is Jewish, and his daughter Ivanka, who converted when she married Mr. Kushner, to dispel suggestions of anti-Semitism.
“As far as Jewish people, so many friends — a daughter who happens to be here right now, a son-in-law and three beautiful grandchildren,” he said, vowing to promote comity. “You’re going to see a lot of love.”