In his first public comments alluding to the US President Donald Trump’s imminent announcement Wednesday recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised “important expressions” of Israel’s national identity, “especially today.”
Speaking in a (Hebrew) video posted to his Facebook page hours before the president’s scheduled speech, Netanyahu said he would have further comments on Trump’s move later in the day.
“Our national historical identity is receiving important expressions every day, and especially today,” he said. “Of course I will have something more about Jerusalem to add later in the day.”
Earlier, during a 22-minute speech to foreign diplomats, he did not address Trump’s expected announcement. Instead, Netanyahu chose to tell a Jerusalem Post conference in the capital about Israel’s burgeoning diplomatic relations, hailing what he described as an unprecedented increase in the Jewish state’s global popularity. He also addressed American public opinion on Israel, which he said has steadily improved over the last decades.
Netanyahu did not say a word in that address about Trump’s anticipated announcement. He also reportedly ordered cabinet ministers not to comment on the issue, apparently at the request of the Trump administration.
In his speech, Netanyahu told the gathered diplomats that “there’s a flourishing of Israel’s diplomatic relations” in recent years, noting that 300 world leaders and 1,800 “influencers” visited the country in 2017.
He cited, as he has done several times this week, an internet survey the Foreign Ministry commissioned that purports to show that many citizens of Arab states are interested in establishing ties with Israel. Critics and some experts have contended the survey is flawed.
“That is a very dramatic change. What is driving that change? It’s primarily two things: economy and security,” Netanyahu said, launching a lengthy segment in which he hailed Israel’s automotive, dairy and cybersecurity industries.
“If you want cars, if you want milk, if you want health, if you want cybersecurity — Israel is a key player,” he said. “Everyone wants the future. Israel is seizing the future.”
Netanyahu also addressed Israel’s geostrategic challenges, primarily Iran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria. The prime minister reiterated his pledge not to let Iran gain a permanent foothold on Israel’s northern border. Iran, he said, seeks “to conquer the Middle East.”
“We will not let them establish themselves in Syria. We say what we mean and we mean what we say. And we do what is necessary to not let that happen,” he said.
Iran today is the only regime left on earth that openly calls for Israel’s destruction, he added, “That‘s already changed in the Arab world. That doesn’t mean we can have peace treaties with the Arab world. But everything below that, and it’s already happening.”
Speaking after Netanyahu, Education Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed Trump’s expected recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, rejecting the notion that the US president will ask Israel for anything in return.
“When you do the right thing, there ought not to be a price. We have conditioned ourselves that when the right thing is done, there must be a price and it’s not true,” Bennett said, asserting that the Jewish claim to Jerusalem was far stronger than the Muslim one because the city isn’t mentioned in the Quran.
Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party, called on other countries to follow Washington’s lead and recognize Jerusalem “as Jewish, undivided capital of Israel.”
Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid addressed the conference earlier in the day, calling on the international community not only to follow in Trump’s footsteps on Jerusalem, but also to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
“The new reality in Syria is that Iran is going from boots on the ground to roots in the ground. This is why there is no scenario in which Israel can, or should ever, be expected to return the Golan Heights,” Lapid said. “Had we returned them to Syria, as the world demanded, we would have had Iranian soldiers staring down at the Galilee, and Iranian artillery aimed directly at our cities. This is the time for the world to recognize full Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”
Lapid went on: “This is also the time for the entire world to recognize united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Policies should not be dictated by threats and intimidation. If violence is the only argument against moving the embassy to Jerusalem, then it only proves it is the right thing to do. Now is the time to do what is right.”