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trump calls on netanyahu to ‘hold back’ on west bank settlements

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trump calls on netanyahu to ‘hold back’ on west bank settlements

at a joint news conference with israeli prime minister benjamin netanyahu at the white house, president trump said he would like israel to stop constructing jewish settlements. (reuters)

president trump directly called on israeli prime minister benjamin netanyahu on wednesday to curtail jewish home building in the west bank, as he predicted that he can help broker an end to the decades-long israeli-palestinian conflict.

“i'd like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit,” trump said as he welcomed netanyahu to the white house for their first meeting since the republican president took office. “we'll work something out,” he added.

in his most extensive remarks as president about the chances for peace in the middle east, trump said he “could live with” either a separate palestinian state or a unitary state as a peaceful outcome.

“i want the one that both parties want,” he said.

that is a dramatic departure from past u.s. policy supporting the goal of an independent palestine alongside israel. both republican and democratic presidents have backed a future palestine on west bank land that is now mostly under israeli military occupation.

“i would like to see a deal be made. i think a deal will be made," trump said. "i know that every president would like to. most of them have not started until late, because they never thought it was possible, and it wasn’t possible because they didn’t do it," trump said.

"but bibi and i have known each other a long time," trump continued, using the israeli leader's nickname. "smart man. great negotiator. and i think we're gonna make  a deal. it might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand, so that’s a possibility."

then, with his body turned toward netanyahu, trump put him on the spot.

"so let's see what we do," trump invited.

"let's try," netanyahu replied quietly.

he did not look pleased, but trump laughed it off.

"that doesn't sound too optimistic," trump said. "good negotiator."

at that, netanyahu brightened.

"that’s the art of the deal," he said to laughter.

later in their joint news conference, netanyahu expanded somewhat on the challenges to a peace deal, and did not publicly commit to rein in settlements.

“if we work together, we have a shot,” he told trump.

trump was not more specific about settlements, which have become one of the main obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement between israel and the palestinians, but his administration had previously called on israel not to expand existing settlement blocs.

as to his campaign promise to quickly move the u.s. embassy from tel aviv to jerusalem, trump said he is considering it “with great care.” arab allies have urged trump to slow down or cancel that pledge for fear of inflaming anti-israel  sentiment and lessening arab governments' leverage over the palestinians in a peace negotiation.

a deal would “take some flexibility” on israel's part, and would shift away from the “hate” palestinians have been taught to hold toward israel, trump said.

“both sides have to make compromises,” trump said of an eventual agreement. “you know that, right?” he said, turning to netanyahu.

jared kushner, trump's son-in-law and close aide, sat in the front row. trump has said kushner would be his chief envoy for a peace push.