Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touched down at Maryland’s Andrews Air Force Base late Monday ahead of his first meeting with US President Donald Trump.
The Israeli leader will meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday morning, before a Wednesday meeting with Trump at the White House.
Netanyahu is also scheduled to meet Democratic and Republican congressional leaders.
Photos released by the Prime Minister’s Office hours after landing showed Netanyahu huddling at official White House guest residence Blair House with national security adviser Yaakov Nagel, military attache Eliezer Toledano, chief of staff Yoav Horowitz and Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.
Before taking off for Washington, Netanyahu said the US-Israel alliance was “about to get even stronger” during the Trump era.
“President Trump and I see eye-to-eye on the dangers emanating from the region,” Netanyahu said in English shortly before boarding the plane, “but also on the opportunities. And we’ll talk about both, as well as upgrading the relations between Israel and the United States in many, many fields.”
The two men last met at the end of the September, some six weeks before Trump’s upset victory.
In Hebrew comments at the airport, Netanyahu also addressed the pressure he has been facing from Jewish Home cabinet ministers to use the Wednesday’s Oval Office meeting as a forum for announcing the dissolution of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, 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.
According to purported 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.”
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.
“We had many discussions ahead of this visit, with the heads of the security establishment, the National Security Council, the Foreign Ministry, and of course yesterday at the cabinet — a thorough, deep, serious discussion,” he told reporters in Hebrew.
“At the end of the discussion [in the cabinet], I said something I want to share with you,” he said. “I’m paraphrasing: I said I will lead and I will chart the course. That’s exactly what I intend to do, to lead and chart this historic alliance between Israel and the US for the national interest of Israel, and of course, for all Israeli citizens.”
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.”
On Thursday, Trump for the first time criticized settlements, in an interview with the Israel Hayom daily. Settlements, Trump said, “don’t help the [peace] process.” Trump 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.”
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