Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday hailed US President Donald Trump for ushering in a “change of approach” in the White House after eight years of “enormous pressure” from former president Barack Obama.
Speaking to a meeting of his Likud faction a day after his first phone call with Trump, Netanyahu said the US president, like him, believes the Iran deal is “bad,” and that peace with the Palestinians will only be achieved through direct talks. He also reiterated that the call was “very warm,” and confirmed the two would meet in Washington early next month.
“After eight years in which I withstood enormous pressure on various issues, primarily Iran and the settlements, I certainly welcome the change of approach,” Netanyahu said.
“President Trump believes that peace will only be achieved through direct negotiations. Does that sound familiar?” said Netanyahu. “He spoke to me at length about the threat from Iran. He also believes the nuclear deal with Iran is a bad deal. That certainly must ring a bell.”
In his remarks, Netanyahu also indirectly took aim at his right-wing coalition partners for advancing a bid to annex the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, saying that “now is not the time for surprises.”
“We are facing great and significant opportunities for the security and future of the State of Israel. But they demand responsibility and discretion so that we don’t squander either the time or the opportunity,” he said. “Now is not the time for knee-jerk reactions, not the time for dictates, and also not the time for surprises.”
“It is the time for responsible, wise diplomacy, with friends, diplomacy that will strengthen the coordination and trust between Israel and the new administration in Washington,” the prime minister said.
“Therefore, for the benefit of the State of Israel and the settlements, I suggest putting aside any other considerations and letting me lead,” he said.
The cabinet on Sunday unanimously agreed to push off a vote on annexing the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim until after Netanyahu and Trump meet. The proposal was made by Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, who has long proposed that Israel annex Area C (the parts of the West Bank under Israeli civilian and military control, in which the bulk of the Israeli settlements are located) and extend a type of semi-autonomy to Palestinians in the rest of the territory, arguing that the creation of a Palestinian state in that area poses a threat to Israel’s existence.
According to reports, Netanyahu during Sunday’s cabinet meeting said he would remove all political obstacles to building in East Jerusalem and soon announce a construction boom in the settlement blocs. That pledge was reportedly what tipped Bennett to agree to delay the annexation proposal.
Since the US election, Bennett and his Jewish Home party have called the entrance of Trump to the White House the death knell of the two-state solution.
Speaking shortly before Netanyahu at the Jewish Home faction meeting, Bennett on Monday called the presidency of Donald Trump a “once-in-50-year opportunity.”
“We give the prime minister full backing to act with courage and determination,” he said. “There is a view that holds that we need to continue to maneuver and defend ourselves. We think we should initiate and act.”
The delay of the vote on the Ma’ale Adumim annexation bill also earned Netanyahu some rare praise from opposition leader Isaac Herzog.
“The prime minister was correct not to give in to the demands of the radical right to tear everything apart and make irresponsible unilateral moves toward annexation,” Herzog said in his Zionist Union faction meeting on Monday.