President Donald Trump vowed Wednesday to present a "very fair" Middle East peace plan by the end of the year and endorsed a two-state solution, apparently confident that the Palestinians would return to talks despite his unwavering support for Israel.
Holding talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, Trump said it was a "dream" of his to bring about a peaceful solution to a conflict that has eluded several of his predecessors.
While Trump said he expected Israel to make concessions in any final settlement of the decades-old conflict, the Palestinians said his administration's policies in the Middle East were destroying hopes of peace.
Jared Kushner, who is Trump's son-in-law as well as a senior advisor in the White House, has been working on a peace plan for more than a year, but there have been few clues to date on what he is expected to propose.
"I would say over the next two to three to four months," Trump said, referring to his prospective timetable for presenting a plan.
Trump, who met with Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, said explicitly for the first time that he backed a two-state solution, saying: "That's what I think works best, that's my feeling." "I really believe something will happen. It is a dream of mine to be able to get that done prior to the end of my first term," added Trump, who was elected to serve four years through January 2021.
"Jared, who's so involved, he loves Israel but he's also going to be very fair with the Palestinians," the US president later told a news conference.
"I think probably two-state is more likely but if they do a single, if they do a double, I'm okay with it if they're both happy. If they're both happy, I'm okay with either. I think the two-state is more likely," he said.
Middle East peace efforts effectively stalled when the Palestinians broke off contacts with the Trump administration last year in protest at Trump's landmark decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Palestinian foreign affairs minister Riyad al-Maliki was unimpressed with Trump's remarks, saying the US president chose his tone because he was appearing with Netanyahu. Maliki -- speaking after meeting in New York with representatives from 40 countries but not Kushner or other US officials -- said Trump needed to state clearly that a two-state solution would include a return to borders from before the 1967 Six-Day War and that east Jerusalem is occupied rather than part of Israel.
"These are important statements that President Trump has to say in order just to convince anyone that he is committed to real peace in our region," Maliki told reporters. Maliki said that the Palestinians met more than 40 times with Trump's envoys only "to discover that they have opted to open that war against the Palestinians to inflict the most damage."
Relations between the Palestinian Authority and the United States plummeted even lower in recent weeks after Washington cut off all funding to a UN agency that helps millions of Palestinian refugees, triggering a budget panic.
Trump said, however, that he was in no doubt that the Palestinians would soon return to the negotiating table. "Absolutely, 100 percent," he said.
"Lots of good things are happening," said Trump, before adding: "Israel will have to do something that will be good for the other side."
Israeli media quoted Netanyahu as saying that Israel must retain security control in any peace deal with the Palestinians west of Jordan to the Mediterranean -- which includes the occupied West Bank.
"Israel will not relinquish security control west of Jordan. This will not happen so long as I am prime minister and I think the Americans understand that," he reportedly said. Several of Trump's predecessors have played leading roles in trying to bring an end to the conflict, including Jimmy Carter, who brokered the 1978 Camp David agreement, which saw Egypt formally recognize Israel.
Bill Clinton oversaw the Oslo peace accords in 1993 which spelled out the aim of a two-state solution and allowed for the creation of the Palestinian Authority which is meant to rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
But it left issues such as the borders and status of Jerusalem unresolved.
Egypt and Jordan are still the only Arab nations that formally recognize Israel.