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Trump asks Netanyahu during joint presser to 'hold back' on settlements in disputed territory

Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Donald Trump, in an unexpected development, turned to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a joint press conference Wednesday before their scheduled private talks and asked the U.S. ally to "hold back" on controversial settlement construction in disputed Israeli territories.

"I'd like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit," Trump told Netanyahu, who appeared caught off-guard by the statement that seemed at odds with the president's campaign rhetoric.

"The United States will encourage a peace — and really a great peace deal. We'll be working on it very diligently," Trump said. "But it is the parties themselves who must directly negotiate such an agreement."

As TheBlaze previously reported, Trump first seemingly changed his tune on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, land claimed by the Palestinians, earlier this month, when he issued a statement saying the continued development by the Jewish state "may not be helpful in achieving" peace between Israel and Palestine.

On the campaign trail, though, Trump and his allies were very critical of the Obama administration's decision to abstain from a vote on United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

In order to achieve a peace deal, Trump said Wednesday, "the Israelis are going to show some flexibility," and "they have to show they really want to make a deal."

"You can talk about flexibility there, too," Trump said of the Palestinians, adding, "[They] have to get rid of some of the hate that they're taught from a very young age."

And when it came to whether or not the White House favors a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, Trump appeared to dodge the question.

"So I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like," the president told reporters, echoing comments made by an unnamed White House official Tuesday night. "I'm very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one."

"I thought for a while the two-state looked like it could maybe be the easier of the two, but honestly, if [Netanyahu] and if the Palestinians — if Israel and the Palestinians — are happy, I'm happy with the one they like the best," he added.

Trump also addressed the two leaders' joint opposition to Iran's nuclear ambitions. "I will do more to prevent Iran from ever developing — I mean ever developing — a nuclear weapon," the president said.

The meeting between Trump and Netanyahu marks a shift toward warmer relations between the U.S. and the Jewish state after years of a rocky relationship under former President Barack Obama's leadership.

The Israeli prime minister praised Trump for his bold rhetoric against radical Islamic terrorism.

"Under your leadership, I believe we can reverse the rising tide of radical Islam," Netanyahu said. "Rolling back radical Islam, we can seize an historic opportunity because, for the first time in my lifetime and for the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy."

"This change in our region creates an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen security and advance peace," he added.

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