With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting US President Donald Trump and as Washington is roiled by reports of improper contacts with Russian officials, The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.
Russia: Don’t believe report on contacts with Trump campaign
The Kremlin has denied as “falsehoods and fabrications” a New York Times report that there were repeated contacts between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign team and senior Russian officials.
“Don’t believe newspaper reports, it’s very difficult at the moment to differentiate them from falsehoods and fabrications,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tells a press conference.
Stressing that the sources quoted by the Times were anonymous, Peskov says “the time has perhaps come for someone to speak out openly about all of this.”
“If you don’t mind let’s wait and let’s not believe anonymous information, which is information based on no fact.”
Citing “four current and former American officials,” the Times report said that intercepted phone calls and phone records showed the repeated contacts with Moscow’s intelligence community.
Israel bars Nahariya basketball team from Turkey over security
The Shin Bet says it has barred the country’s Ironi Nahariya basketball team from playing a Europe Cup match in Turkey, due to “exceptional” safety concerns.
Nahariya had been scheduled to play Gaziantep away in a round of 16 second leg game on February 22, after beating the Turkish side 96-75 in Israel.
Gaziantep, in southeastern Turkey, lies near the Syrian border.
Police in the city last week detained four suspected members of the Islamic State group and seized explosives and weapons intended for a “sensational” attack, Turkish news agency Dogan reported.
A statement by the Shin Bet security service says it worked extensively with the Nahariya club’s management, sporting officials and Turkish security but had failed to find a solution which would allow the game to go ahead.
“In view of the exceptional threat level posed in the region where the game was to take place, it was decided to forbid the delegation from departing,” the Hebrew-language statement says.
Give us liberty or give us equal rights, Erekat declares
Top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat says that Israel must give all Palestinians full voting rights if it refuses to agree to a Palestinian state, hours after a senior White House official appeared to backtrack from the US’s traditional for a two-state solution.
“Contrary to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s plan of one state and two systems, apartheid, the only alternative to two sovereign and democratic states on the 1967 border is one single secular and democratic state with equal rights for everyone, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, on all of historic Palestine,” Erekat says during a meeting with the speaker of the UK House of Commons, John Bercow, in Ramallah.
Hours before Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were set to meet for the first time since the president took office, the White House announced Tuesday that Washington will seek to broker a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, but that a two-state solution may not be the framework to bring that peace to fruition and that the president will not insist on it.
— Raphael Ahren
Sweden appoints special envoy to Israel-Palestinian conflict
Sweden has named a “special envoy” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict amid signals that Washington may retreat from international support for a two-state solution.
“This year marks 50 years of the occupation of Palestine. Sweden continues to work for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will appoint a special envoy,” Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom declares during a parliamentary debate on foreign affairs.
“When I visited Palestine in December it was noticeable that hope can turn to despair, and this features heavily in the consultations that Sweden is holding with almost 150 Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations,” she says.
UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which harshly condemned Israeli West Bank settlements, and the international peace summit held in Paris last month “could, in the best-case scenario, create the conditions for a renewed peace process and a two-state solution,” Wallstrom says.
— Raphael Ahren
Trump says leaks ‘illegal,’ compares NSA and FBI to Russia
For the second time in as many months, US President Donald Trump is striking out at intelligence agencies, amid reports of leaks pointing to links between his election campaign and Russian officials.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
Trump calls the leaks to the New York Times and Washington Post illegal, blaming Democrats and comparing the NSA and FBI to Russia.
This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton's losing campaign.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
Trump also thanks Eli Lake of Bloomberg for a column in which he posits that intelligence officials “politically assassinated” Michael Flynn.
In mid-January, before being inaugurated, Trump compared the intelligence community to Nazis over a dossier that claimed Russia had material to blackmail him with.
He later claimed any tiff with spy agencies was fabricated by the media.
Thank you to Eli Lake of The Bloomberg View – "The NSA & FBI…should not interfere in our politics…and is" Very serious situation for USA
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
‘Thanks a bunch,’ Jerusalem sarcastically tells Sweden after special envoy named
After Sweden announces a special envoy to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Jerusalem reacts with bitter sarcasm to Stockholm.
“Given the extraordinary successes of this Swedish government in peace making all over the world, we are deeply grateful for the decision to finally solve this region’s illnesses,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon tells The Times of Israel. “Why couldn’t they come sooner?”
Israel has a history of attempting to burn Sweden with sarcastic responses. In 2014, after Stockholm recognized Palestine, then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman quipped that “the Swedish government must understand that relations in the Middle East are more complex than one of IKEA’s flat-pack pieces of furniture.”
At the time, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström shot back that building Middle East peace was actually pretty much the same as putting together a Liatorp bookcase or Hurdal wardrobe.
“I will be happy to send him a flat pack of IKEA furniture and he will also see that what you need to put it together is, first of all, a partner. And you also need to cooperate and you need a good manual and I think we have most of those elements,” she said in an interview with CNN.
— with Raphael Ahren
CIA chief secretly met with Abbas in Ramallah last night — reports
New CIA head Mike Pompeo met Tuesday night with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in order to discuss the two-state solution and the security of the region, according to Hebrew and Arabic media reports.
According to a report in the Palestinian News Agency Ma’an, based on a “reliable” source, the meeting took place in the PA headquarters in Ramallah, known as the Muqataa, and was attended by the head of the Palestinian intelligence service, Maj. Gen. Majed Faraj.
Senior Palestinian security sources told Israel Radio last night’s meeting between Abbas and Pompeo was the second in recent weeks, with the first one taking place at the start of this month.
The sides reportedly discussed the upcoming meeting between US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington.
Over the weekend, Pompeo made a public visit to Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
There was no immediate response to the reports from US officials.
— Dov Lieber
UN chief: 2-state solution must be saved
Speaking in Cairo, UN Chief Antonio Guterres says “everything must be done” to preserve the two-state solution.
The comment comes after the White House signals that it is considering retreating from support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump are set to meet.
The White House announced Tuesday that Washington will seek to broker a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, but that a two-state solution may not necessarily be the framework to bring that peace to fruition and that the president will not insist on it.
2 killed in Negev car crash
Two people, ages 40 and 50, have been declared dead after a collision between two vehicles in southern Israel.
Five other people are injured in the crash, according to the MDA rescue service, including a 40-year-old woman in serious condition.
The crash occurred on Route 40 near Mitzpe Ramon.
Trump and Netanyahu exchange Twitter well-wishes
With nearly three hours to go before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to arrive at the White House for his meeting with Donald Trump, the two are already engaging in Twitter diplomacy showing their warm friendship.
After Netanyahu tweets that he is looking forward to the meeting, Trump’s official White House account tweets that he is looking forward as well.
— President Trump (@POTUS) February 15, 2017
Meanwhile Trump’s personal account is continuing to thump intelligence agencies over the Flynn Russia scandal, calling them un-American and accusing them of handing out secrets “like candy.”
The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by "intelligence" like candy. Very un-American!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
New German president: I’ve been to Israel so often I lost count
German President-elect Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks with President Reuven Rivlin on the phone, and responds to an invite to Israel by saying he’s been here at least two dozen times already.
“I think I have been fortunate to visit Israel more than 25 times, I have stopped counting,” he says in the phone call, according to a statement from Rivlin’s office.
But he also says he’ll be happy to visit again at the first opportunity.
In the conversation, Rivlin calls Steinmeier a “great friend of Israel.”
“From the bottom of my heart, I congratulate you, and wish you much success. I thank you for all you have done in the past as foreign minister, and we look forward to working together once you take up your new role,” he says.
Trump trying to broker Israel-Arab NATO-style alliance — report
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Trump administration is holding discussions with several Arab states to create a NATO-style alliance with Israel in order to thwart Iran and its Shiite allies.
The report, citing five officials from the Arab countries involved, says the alliance will be on the agenda when Trump and Netanyahu speak later today.
Countries involved would include Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as Egypt and Jordan, though Israel’s role would be in intelligence sharing and not combat-related, according to the report.
The officials say cooperation with Israel would be contingent on the administration keeping the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and other demands. Saudi and Emirati officials also say cooperation with Israel could be done more in the open in exchange for a freeze on settlement building.
Mike Flynn, who was Trump’s national security adviser before resigning this week, was reportedly heavily involved in the talks, along with defense chief James Mattis.
Earlier in the day, the Israeli Haaretz daily reported that Netanyahu and Trump would discuss a regional peace deal for Israel with the Palestinian issue playing a smaller role.
Death toll in crash up to three
The death toll in a two-vehicle crash in southern Israel has risen to three, as one person in serious condition succumbs to wounds sustained.
Four other people were injured in the crash, according to MDA.
Soroka hospital says it is treating four people, a woman in serious condition and three people in moderate and light condition.
Netanyahu staff arrives at White House ahead of meeting
Netanyahu’s staff is arriving at the White House now, along with embassy officials and the press pool traveling with the prime minister.
Netanyahu and his wife Sara are slated to arrive at 11:50 a.m. EST (6:50 p.m. Israel time) for a handshake with Trump and Melania Trump at the southern portico of the White House, with an honor guard present.
At noon, the two are slated to convene a short press conference and will then retire to the Oval Office, where they will release statements.
The two are expected to meet and have lunch together, with Trump blocking off time until 4:15 p.m. EST (11:15 p.m. Israel time) for Netanyahu.
— Raphael Ahren
US to NATO: Pay your share or we’ll ‘moderate commitment’
US defense chief James Mattis has warned NATO allies Wednesday that Washington will “moderate its commitment” to the alliance unless they boost their spending.
“No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values,” Mattis says in prepared remarks given to his counterparts at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
“If your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this alliance, each of your capitals need to show support for our common defense.”
New Gaza honcho won’t be tweeting, terror group says
The Hamas terror group announces that its new leader in Gaza, convicted murderer Yahya Sinwar, does not have any social media accounts.
“We affirm that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar does not have any accounts on Twitter or any other social media sites,” Hamas says in a statement posted on its official website.
“We warn against circulating anything that is published through these fraudulent accounts,” the statement adds.
Since his election victory was announced on Monday, one Twitter account claiming to be Sinwar was opened and has gained nearly 1,200 followers, including many journalists.
— Dov Lieber
France joins international pushback to WH 2-state retreat
France’s commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “stronger than ever,” the French ambassador to the United Nations says after Washington signaled it was ready to step away from the policy.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre says that the international community gathered at the Paris conference last month had reaffirmed support for a settlement that would see the creation of a Palestinian state.
“It’s not up to me, of course, to comment on other countries’ position, but what I can say is our commitment to the two-state solution is stronger than ever,” Delattre tells reporters.
Earlier the UN chief and Sweden responded by also declaring their commitment to the two-state solution.
Press corps gets questions ready for Trump and Netanyahu
The Israeli press corps is being ushered into the East Room of the White House, where Trump and Netanyahu will take questions from reporters ahead of their meeting.
While waiting, they naturally prepare their notes and of course, take a copious amount of selfies.
On Twitter, Wall Street Journal reporter Reid Epstein asks Israeli reporters to use their question to quiz Trump on ties to Russia.
Dear colleagues in the Israeli press corps: Please ask Donald Trump about Russian contacts if you're called on at today's press conference.
— Reid J. Epstein (@reidepstein) February 15, 2017
Channel 2’s Assaf Yehezkieli writes back that he’ll do so if the US press asks Netanyahu about his corruption investigations, giving a clue as to what direction the questions may take.
We'll make a deal: You will ask Netanyahu about his corruption investigations in Israel. https://t.co/JxTrjxnXmK
— אסף יחזקאלי (@AssafYNews) February 15, 2017
Minister: Palestinian statehood not on table
Speaking to Army Radio, Yisrael Katz, a Likud minister and confidant to the prime minister, says that Palestinian statehood is not on the table as Netanyahu and Trump meet.
“The US and Israel are not going to advance the creation of a Palestinian state,” he says. “It’s not a surprise, I know this for sure.”
Netanyahu set to arrive at White House
Netanyahu and his wife Sara are now set to arrive at the White House, where they will be greeted by Trump and his wife Melania.
The arrival is being broadcast on Netanyahu’s Facebook page.
Trumps await Netanyahus outside White House
With reporters and an honor guard waiting outside the White House, Benjamin Netanyahu is arriving a few minutes late.
Trump and wife Melanie are coming out onto the South Portico as Netanyahu’s car is set to pull up.
Netanyahus arrive at White House, exchange warm greetings with Trumps
Netanyahu has finally arrived at the White House. Trump first shakes Sara Netanyahu’s hand before moving on to the prime minister, who he warmly greets with a 10-second handshake.
The four briefly exchange words before posing for a photo opportunity and then walk in, with the two leaders clasping each others’ backs.
— ABC News (@ABC) February 15, 2017
Press conference set to begin
Trump and Netanyahu are now having a few moments in private before taking questions from the press.
In the briefing room, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer is seen coming in and putting a folder next to Netanyahu’s lectern.
The American press is also watching the press conference closely for any question Trump may field over his Russian contacts.
The press conference is set be livestreamed on the White House’s YouTube channel.
Press conference about to begin
Netanyahu’s senior staff is now in the East Room, a sign that the press conference will kick off at any second.
The fact that Trump and his wife Melania came out to greet the Netanyahus in front of the White House is an unusual step, and a far cry from the faux pas the prime minister suffered in London last week, when he had to wait 25 seconds in front of 10 Downing Street after arriving to a meeting with Theresa May early.
— Raphael Ahren
Wives enter ahead of press conference
Melania Trump and Sara Netanyahu have come into the briefing room, along with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, signaling that the press conference will start at any second.
Trump: I will prevent Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapon
Kicking off the press conference Trump says he has the honor of welcoming Netanyahu to the White House.
He says there is an “unbreakable bond” between Israel and the US.
“The state of Israel is a symbol to the world of resilience in the face of oppression,” he says in prepared remarks.
“We will never forget what the Jewish people have endured,” he adds.
Trump calls the security challenges facing Israel enormous, saying the Iran deal is “one of the worst deals I have ever seen” and vows to do more to “prevent Iran from ever developing, I mean ever, a nuclear weapon.”
Both sides will need to compromise for peace, Trump says
Trump accuses the UN of treating Israel “very unfairly” and also lashes out at other unnamed groups.
He says commitment to Israel includes working out a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
He says peace is very important to him personally. “But it is the parties themselves that must negotiate.”
He says both sides must make compromises.
“You know that, right,” he says, turning to Netanyahu.
“We’ll talk,” Netanyahu says.
Netanyahu: We can turn back terror together
Netanyahu now speaks, touting the alliance between the US and Israel, saying that “under your leadership” ties “will get even stronger.”
“I welcome your forthright call to ensure that Israel is treated fairly in unfair forums,” he says.
He says US and Israel’s values are under attack by “radical Islamic terrorism,” and says Trump has shown resolve in fighting it.
“Under your leadership I believe we can reverse the tide of radical Islam,” he says, citing Iran and the Islamic State, vowing that Israel stands with him.
Trump calls for Israel to ‘hold back on settlements’
Wrapping up his remarks, the president calls for regional peace.
Taking questions, Trump calls on a reporter from the Christian Broadcast Network, who asks about keeping Iran from a nuclear weapon and settlements.
Trump says Flynn was “treated badly,” by “the fake media.” He calls leaks “criminal acts.”
“I think its very, very unfair what happened to General Flynn.”
“As far as settlements I’d like to hold back on settlements a little bit. we’ll see …. but I’d like to see a deal be made.”
He says “we’re gonna make a deal.”
After Netanyahu mumbles something, they exchange a few words and Trump recognizes Sara Netanyahu.
Trump takes question on 2-state solution
Trump says he will agree to whatever both parties likes, whether one-state or a two-state solution.
“I’m happy with the one they like they best,” he says.
He adds they are looking at moving the embassy with “great care.”
Netanyahu calls for regional approach to peace
Speaking now, Netanyahu repeats his various demands of the Palestinians, including recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and demilitarization, and accuses Ramallah of paying lip service, calling them prerequisites of peace.
He says Jews have a connection to the land and accuses Palestinians of glorifying terrorists.
“We have to look at new ways,” to reach peace, he says, and calls for a regional approach with Arab states, noting he will discuss it with Trump.
Trump says the two have been discussing a regional deal, and says it “would take in many, many countries.”
“I didn’t know you were going to be mentioning it, but now that you did, it’s a terrific thing,” he says.
Trump: Palestinians must stop teaching hate; Netanyahu welcomes new Iran approach
Taking another question, Trumps says “Israelis will have to show some flexibility … the fact that they really want to make a deal.”
He says “the new concept” they have been discussing gives them more room to maneuver.
“I really believe they want to make a deal,” Trump says.
“I think the Palestinians have to get rid of some of the hate they are taught from a very young age. I have seen what they are taught. In starts at a very young age … and they have to acknowledge Israel,” he adds, appearing to cotton to Netanyahu’s terms.
Netanyahu, speaking on Iran, says Trump has led an “important effort” against Iran, and brings up ballistic missiles that were tested with Hebrew lettering on them.
“That’s a change that is clearly evident since President Trump took office. I welcome that. I think it’s long overdue,” he says, hinting at criticism of Barack Obama.
Netanyahu says he’ll explain view on settlements, defends Trump from anti-Semitism claims
Taking a question from an Israeli reporter about anti-Semitism in the US following his election, Trump begins talking about winning the election.
“There’s tremendous enthusiasm out there,” he says.
We are going to do everything in our power to stop long-simmering racism,” he adds, without mentioning anti-Semitism by name, and says the country was divided before he came along.
He also mentions the fact that his daughter is Jewish.
“You will see a very different America. Your going to see a lot of love,” he says.
Answering about Trump’s settlement stoppage, Netanyahu says settlements are not at the core of the conflict, and says he’ll explain his views to Trump, “so we don’t bump into each other on this every time,” he says.
Asked about commitment to two states, he says it depends on what kind of state it will be, expressing fears of Palestine being a terror state.
He adds that his views have not changed. He also addresses the anti-Semitism question and says “there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state” than Trump, ending the press conference.
Leaders to meet for several hours after Oval Office appearance
Netanyahu and Trump are now heading to the Oval Office, where they will exchange a few words for a photo op before meeting in private.
As evidenced by the press conference and Netanyahu’s annoyance over Trump’s call for a settlement freeze, they will have much to discuss.
During the press conference, Trump seemed to confuse Netanyahu’s talk about a regional peace solution, which he has pushed for years, with a plan reported by the Wall Street Journal earlier in the day of a limited military alliance between Israel and Arab states to defend against Iran.
Trump likely expected to discuss the matter with Netanyahu and seemed surprised that Netanyahu had brought it up, as the plan remains secret, while Netanyahu was likely not talking about it all.
Trump, Netanyahu mum as Oval Office meeting starts
Trump and Netanyahu are currently in a photo op with their wives in the Oval Office.
The two allow photographers to take pictures but do not offer a public statement.
As the press crowds around them they remain silent, even as some throw out questions.
— Raphael Ahren
Right-wing lawmakers celebrate ‘end of two-state solution’
On Facebook, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett celebrates the apparent backslide from the two-state solution.
“A new era. After 24 years, the Palestinian flag is lowered and the Israeli flag is put in its place,” he writes, referring to the Oslo Accords.
Likud Minister Ofir Akunis also says the evening marks the end of the two-state solution.
“This is the most important day for those who love the country of Israel,” he tweets.
He adds that Trump understands that the two-state solution won’t bring peace in the Middle East.
‘Israel has lost tonight,’ Zionist Union MK mourns
While the right celebrates the Netanyahu-Trump meeting, Israeli lawmakers on the left respond bitterly to the apparent end of the two-state solution.
“The extreme right won tonight. The State of Israel has lost. Netanyahu is leading us to a dual-nation state, while running from the two-state [solution] which is in Israel’s interest,” Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit writes on Twitter.
Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi sarcastically tweets that he is “beginning preparations to run for the head of the one state.”
There is as of yet no reaction from Palestinian officials, who are holding a conference in Ramallah to elect a number 2 for Fatah.
Hotovely, Galant praise Trump statements
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely joins the chorus of right-wing approval for the Netanyahu-Trump presser, saying that it “brings tidings of a new era and the opening of the idea of a regional solution.”
“I praise the fact that for the first time in 25 years the Americans want to think again and respect Israeli interests, as decided by the people of Israel,” she says, according to her spokesperson.
Housing Minister Yoav Galant, of the centrist Kulanu party, also hails Trump’s “historic speech,” but for his hard line on Iran and Palestinian incitement.
Meretz head says PM okayed Trump anti-Semitism
Meretz leader Zehava Galon praises Channel 10 reporter Moav Vardi for asking Trump about anti-Semitism.
“Vardi was the only journalist who bothered to ask about anti-Semitism in the press conference. Netanyahu, meanwhile, volunteered to give a kosher certificate to the government’s anti-Semitism,” she says.
Vardi was one of only two Israeli reporters allowed to ask questions.
Former foreign minister and peace negotiator Tzipi Livni meanwhile finds a way to praise Trump despite his statement.
“This is a president who speaks about peace, it makes me happy that uses the term deal. He says ‘it’s important to me,’ he doesn’t say, ‘do whatever you want.'”
Tibi: I’ll run for prime minister of one-state and win
Appearing on CNN, MK Ahmad Tibi says the abandonment of the two-state solution is “dangerous” and could lead to violence.
He also reiterates his statement that if Palestinians are given the full vote he will run for prime minister, but adds that he will win.
“I will get the vote from the Palestinians and some of the Jews and Bibi will be the loser,” he says.
He adds that Trump’s call for Palestinians to stop teaching their children to hate is “unreasonable,” as nobody could ever love their occupier.
Palestinian source: Trump statement ‘worst ever’
A Palestinian source tells Israel Radio that Trump’s speech was the “worst ever.”
“What’s this two-state or one-state? Why not five-states already? This is worthless talk,” the source is quoted saying.
GOP Jews: Trump-Netanyahu meet ‘welcome sign of new era’
The Republican Jewish Coalition praises the meeting between Trump and Netanyahu, calling it “a welcome sign that a new era has arrived for United States-Israel relations.”
“Whether it’s preventing a nuclear Iran, or the responsibilities of the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table in order to reach peace, we will only achieve our mutual goals if we stand united in the process. Thankfully, it’s clear that going forward there will be no daylight between the US and our closest ally in the Middle East,” the RJC says in a statement.