WASHINGTON — Speaking before nearly 18,000 pro-Israel advocates gathered for AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the warm ties being forged between his government and the new Trump administration, saying that he was committed to working with the president to reach a peace deal.
Addressing the crowd via satellite link from Jerusalem, Netanyahu talked about his “exceptionally warm meeting” with President Donald Trump at the White House last month, and signaled that the two men were fostering a far better relationship than the one he shared with president Barack Obama.
“Israel is committed to working with President Trump to advance peace with the Palestinians and with all our neighbors,” he said.
Trump has already sought to create the conditions for negotiations to resume after a three-year hiatus. Jason Greenblatt, his special representative for international negotiations, recently returned from a trip to the region during which he met with both Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Trump has also been seeking an agreement with Israel on slowing down settlement construction — although the two parties have been unable to reach an understanding so far. During a joint press conference with Netanyahu last month, Trump asked him to “hold back on settlements for a bit.”
While Netanyahu did not mention the settlement issue in his address, he sought to assure the spirited crowd that very friendly ties were developing under the new White House.
“I want to thank the president for his strong support of Israel,” he said. “I want to thank Vice President [Mike] Pence for his warm words for Israel last night.” Pence, who was close with the pro-Israel lobby during his tenure in the House, addressed the same crowd Sunday evening.
The Israeli premier stressed the White House’s language would translate into action that would benefit Israel. “The administration has shown its commitment to turning those words into policies,” he said.
He said that was already apparent in the administration’s dedication to confronting Iran, US envoy Nikki Haley’s strong stand for Israel at the United Nations, and the commitment to ensuring that US aid to Israel remains robust.
One of the loudest cheers came when he spoke of “Ambassador Haley standing up for what’s right for Israel and the truth at the United Nations,” referencing the US boycotting the UN Human Rights Council and taking it to task for its anti-Israel bias.
“I am confident that the United States and Israel will stand together, shoulder to shoulder, to ensure that light triumphs over darkness and hope triumphs over despair,” Netanyahu said. “Our partnership means also confronting Iran’s aggression in the region and its terrorism around the world.”
His AIPAC address comes months after his bitter dispute with the Obama administration over its allowing the passage — by forgoing its veto power — of a UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israel’s settlement project as illegal and an obstacle to peace.
He also cited the president’s recent budget blueprint that, while seeking to cut the State Department’s budget by 28 percent, would leave its assistance to Israel untouched.
“You see it in the budget requests submitted by President Trump,” Netanyahu said, which leaves “aid to Israel fully funded” even amid federal belt-tightening.
Netanyahu also took the opportunity to congratulate Trump’s longtime lawyer David Friedman, who was recently confirmed by the Senate to be the next US ambassador to Israel.
“David, I look forward to welcoming you warmly to Israel, and especially to Jerusalem,” he said.
Upon the announcement of his nomination, Friedman suggested he would carry out his duties in Jerusalem, a signal at the time of the administration’s promise to carry out Trump’s campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv.
Such a move has not yet taken place, although Pence suggested in his speech Sunday night that it was still on the table. “The president of the United States is giving serious consideration to moving the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv,” Pence told AIPAC.