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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Britain's foreign minister said on Wednesday that his country remains "absolutely" committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that obstacles to a deal, including accelerated Israeli settlement building, must be removed.
Boris Johnson said he believes it's still possible to set up a state of Palestine alongside Israel and that the leadership change in Washington might offer an opportunity.
"There is a willingness to look at things with fresh eyes," Johnson said after meeting with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki in the city of Ramallah, the base of the Palestinian autonomy government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
President Donald Trump, in a break from his predecessors, has given mixed signals about whether the United States still supports a two-state solution.
His election has emboldened Israeli hard-liners who oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently stopped short of endorsing the idea.
Palestinians want to establish their state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
Israelis and Palestinians have not held meaningful talks since gaps widened with the 2009 election of hard-liner Netanyahu. The Palestinian political split between Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas and his Islamic militant Hamas rivals has also harmed diplomatic efforts.
Standing next to Malki on a podium, near a "State of Palestine" seal, Johnson said that "the policy of our government in the UK is absolutely unchanged, we remain committed to a two-state solution, to that vision for the resolution of this conflict."
"I really think it is possible," Johnson said. "We must not abandon that prospect."
Israel's ongoing expansion of Jewish settlement on war-won lands has led to growing skepticism about whether a two-state deal remains possible.
Johnson acknowledged the challenges, including "the accelerated pace of settlement building, the accelerated pace of demolitions."
"Those are also the barriers in the path of a two-state solution, and we have to work to remove those barriers," he said.
Johnson met with Netanyahu later on Wednesday, after holding talks with Abbas.
He insisted his government is one of the "firm, strong supporters, rock-like supporters of Israel."
"I should remind you that the policy of our government is for a two-state solution ... Israel has first and foremost and absolute right to live in security and the people of Israel deserve to be safe from terrorism and that's our absolute priority," Johnson said. "We must also try to remove obstacles to peace and progress such as the settlements."
Netanyahu reiterated his position on the conflict.
"The reason we haven't had peace here for a hundred years is not the settlements but the persistent refusal to recognize a nation state for the Jewish people in any boundary. I think if you want to solve the problem you go to the core of the problem," he said.
In an unusual move, Johnson also toured parts of the West Bank with Israel's anti-settlement watchdog group Peace Now.
"We briefed him about the situation and the importance of keeping two-state solution alive," Hagit Ofran of Peace Now said.
In November 2015, while mayor of London, Johnson had led a trade mission to the region, but the West Bank segment unraveled after he criticized a Palestinian-led movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Two of his meetings, with Palestinian youth and female business leaders, were called off at the time in protest over what was perceived as a pro-Israel stance.
Associated Press Writer Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
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