UNITED NATIONS: US President Donald Trump said Wednesday he would present a two-state peace plan for the Middle East before the end of the year, voicing confidence that the Palestinians would return to talks despite his unwavering support for Israel.
Speaking as he held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, Trump said that 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 now but there have been few clues to date of 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 that would create an independent Palestine, 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 a four-year term through January 2021.
The Middle East peace process has effectively been stalled since the Palestinians broke off contacts with the Trump administration last year in protest at the US president's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.
Trump then authorized the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The Palestinians also want Jerusalem to be their capital and have long argued that the status of the holy city should only be settled as part of a larger peace agreement.
Relations between the Palestinian Authority and the United States have fallen even lower in recent weeks after Washington cut off funding, including to a UN agency that helps millions of Palestinian refugees.
Israel will have to do something
Trump said, however, that he was in no doubt that the Palestinians would soon return to the negotiating table.
"They are absolutely coming back to the table," he said. "Absolutely, 100 percent."
"Lots of good things are happening," said Trump, before adding: "Israel will have to do something that will be good for the other side."
The initial reaction, however, underlined the uphill struggle Trump will face in convincing the Palestinians that he is a neutral broker.
"Their words go against their actions and their action is absolutely clear (and) is destroying the possibility of the two-state solution," Husam Zomlot, head of the recently closed Palestinian mission in Washington, told AFP.
He added that Trump's comments alone were not enough to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
While not directly addressing the issue of a two-state solution, Netanyahu had warm words of praise for Trump.
"No one has backed Israel like you do and we appreciate it," said the Israeli prime minister, who has forged a strong bond with Trump over their mutual hostility towards Iran.
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 and Jordan formally recognize Israel.
Bill Clinton oversaw the Oslo peace accords a quarter of a century ago 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.
However it left issues such as the exact borders and the status of Jerusalem unresolved.
Apart from Egypt and Jordan, no other Arab nation currently formally recognizes Israel.