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US will not insist on two-state solution in Middle East: White House official

In what would be a major shift from the policy position held by the Obama administration, a White House official said Tuesday night that the United States will not "impose" a two-state solution in the Middle East in an attempt to settle the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Maybe, maybe not," said the official when asked at a White House briefing whether peace equaled a two-state solution. "It's something the two sides have to agree to. It's not for us to impose that vision. But I think we'll find out more about that tomorrow."

President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday at the White House.

"A two-state solution that doesn't bring peace is not our goal that anybody wants to achieve," the official said. "Peace is the goal, whether it comes in the form of a two-state solution if that's what the parties want or something else, if that's what the parties want, we're going to help them."

President Obama's administration emphasized the importance of two states to achieving lasting peace.

At the final news conference of his presidency on Jan. 18, Obama said that he did not see how, as the situation currently stands, "this issue gets resolved in a way that maintains Israel as both Jewish and a democracy."

"Because if you do not have two states, then in some form or fashion you are extending an occupation, functionally you end up having one state in which millions of people are disenfranchised and operate as second class residents," said Obama.

In late December, the U.S. abstained from a United Nations vote calling for the end of the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a move that received criticism from Israel, which sought the U.S.'s veto, as well as Trump.

"This resolution reflects trends that will permanently destroy the two-state solution if they continue on their current course," said then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power.

Trump, as president-elect in December, warned via Twitter that a change would be coming on policy related to the region, specifically referencing the U.N. vote and saying, "things will be different."

Later that week in December, Obama's secretary of state, John Kerry, made the policy a centerpiece of remarks on Middle East peace.

"The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians," said Kerry. "It is the only way to ensure Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and security with its neighbors. It is the only way to ensure a future, freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people and it is an important way of advancing the United States' interests in the region."

The Trump official at Tuesday evening's briefing insinuated that the policy hinged on a clearer definition of the proposal, saying "If I ask five people what a two-state solution is, I get eight different answers."

As to whether Trump and Netanyahu would use the term at their meeting Wednesday, the official demurred.

"We're looking at the two sides to come together to make peace together and we'll be there to help them," the official said.

This is a developing story. Please check back in for updates.

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