The chairman of the opposition Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid on Monday warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against “pushing [US President Donald] Trump into a corner” during his upcoming visit with the new US leader.
Speaking at his weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, Lapid called on ministers to stop urging the prime minister to use the Wednesday meeting as an opportunity to push Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank.
“It’s almost absurd that I need to say it from the opposition but I call upon the members of the government and the coalition to give the prime minister their support during this visit, not to expect too much and to remember that managing the country is a long process which requires all of us to act responsibly,” Lapid said.
“Israel’s security and foreign affairs can’t be thrown aside because of politicians who are only interested in themselves,” he said, declaring that the first meeting between the two leaders was not the time to discuss the Palestinian issue.
Lapid’s comments came with Netanyahu facing pressure from Jewish Home cabinet ministers to use the upcoming meeting as a forum for announcing the shelving of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked urged Netanyahu to end his public support for Palestinian statehood, and argued that Trump’s term in the White House offered a unique opportunity to do so.
“The Palestinian issue is a central part of the discussion about Israel’s security, but there will be time for that. We have seen time and again that the Americans don’t like being forced into a corner, exactly as we don’t like it when others try to push us into a corner,” Lapid said.
Instead, Lapid said Netanyahu should focus the discussions on three issues: creating a united front against Iran; ending attacks on Israel in international forums; and trying to secure a promise from the president that Israel will be exempt from any attempt to force American companies to bring their factories back from abroad.
According to leaks from the closed-door meeting first reported by Channel 2, Netanyahu tried to dampen expectations on the far-right. The Trump administration, which he reportedly said was indeed friendlier to Israel than that of Barack Obama, would not tolerate unlimited construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, he said. He cautioned ministers not to push Israel into a confrontation with the president.
“Trump believes in a deal and in running peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” the prime minister was quoted as saying. “We should be careful and not do things that will cause everything to break down. We mustn’t get into a confrontation with him.”
Netanyahu reportedly told the ministers he would declare his commitment to the two-state solution, but would also continue to spotlight the Palestinians’ reluctance to reach a peace deal. He said he would reiterate that it was not West Bank settlements that are the main cause of the conflict, but rather the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
As he boarded the plane Monday, Netanyahu noted he had consulted with a wide range of agencies and fellow ministers, but suggested he would ultimately be the one deciding how to steer Israeli policy in the new Trump era.
Netanyahu told reporters the US-Israel alliance is “about to get even stronger” under the new US administration, and that he and Trump “see eye-to-eye on the dangers emanating from the region.”
Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday and Trump at the White House on Wednesday, as well as Democratic and Republican congressional leaders.
In the four weeks since Trump entered office, Israel has approved thousands of new homes over the Green Line, announced plans for the creation of the first new settlement in two decades, and passed a controversial settlement-home legalization law. The White House has refrained from condemning the moves, but warned earlier this month they may not be “helpful.”
The prime minister’s warning came days after Trump for the first time criticized settlements, in an interview with the Israel Hayom daily. Settlements, Trump said, “don’t help the [peace] process.” He added: “Every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left. But we are looking at that, and we are looking at some other options we’ll see. But no, I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”