'You heard President Trump... He believes Abbas wants peace'

Netanyahu: Trump is ‘determined to get a deal’ with the Palestinians

‘We don’t have a blank check from Trump,’ PM tells his Likud colleagues, adding that Israel must act with caution

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, May 29, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, May 29, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday cautioned that although the current US administration is very understanding of Israel’s needs, the country doesn’t have a “blank check” to do as it wishes concerning the Palestinians.

Speaking at his Likud faction weekly meeting, Netanyahu stressed that US President Donald Trump is set on seeing peace between Israel and the Palestinians and hinted that the American leader expects the Jewish state to be accommodating.

“I want to tell you, we don’t have a blank check on the political level,” Netanyahu reportedly told Likud lawmakers at a closed-door meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem. “This president is determined to get a deal,” Channel 2 quoted the prime minister telling his colleagues.

“We are a sovereign country, we can decide on many things and declare many things, but as far as the consent of the Americans goes I would not go that far,” multiple Hebrew media outlets quoted Netanyahu as saying.

“It is true that there are warm relations and there is a lot of understanding for our basic positions, but it is not true that we have a blank check, and that is far from the reality,” he said.

Trump’s election was greeted with joy in the Israeli government, particularly on its right flank, where some argued that this was an opportunity for Israel to annex large parts of the West Bank and begin a massive program of building in the settlements and Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.

But Trump has since asked Israel to restrain settlement construction and is pushing for the two sides to resume peace talks.

Trump last week made a 28-hour visit to Israel during which he also traveled to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. In the wake of the visit there have been media reports that Trump is pushing hard to soon announce the restarting of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in coordination with a warming of ties between Israel and moderate Arab states.

“We now need to act very wisely and with responsibility. Even more than that, we need to do so especially now. You heard President Trump, he came here and did very important things and touched the soul, but he also said that he believes that Abbas wants peace. He said that he believes that it is possible to reach a deal and that we need to reach it. We are in that situation,” Netanyahu said.

Before Trump’s arrival, coalition lawmakers and ministers — including Netanyahu himself — had publicly called for Trump to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a measure that would be seen as recognition of the city as Israel’s capital. Trump made no reference at all to the embassy during his visit. He did, however, become the first serving US president to visit the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, though he made it clear it was a private visit, and American officials rejected a request that Netanyahu accompany him.

In March, Israel agreed to self-imposed restrictions on new settlement construction in what was seen as a gesture to the Trump administration after months-long negotiations between the two sides failed to yield any formal understanding on the matter.

The White House at the time said it “welcomed” the curb, cautioning Israel against engaging in large-scale construction projects.

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