Netanyahu, leaving for DC, says he and Trump ‘see eye-to-eye’
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'The alliance between Israel and America has always been extremely strong... and is about to get even stronger'

Netanyahu, leaving for DC, says he and Trump ‘see eye-to-eye’

PM fends off pressure from his right flank to use his first summit with the US president to reject Palestinian statehood

Benjamin Netanyahu, with his wife Sara Netanyahu behind him, speaking to the press before boarding a plane to the US, at Ben-Gurion Airport, on February 13, 2017. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)
Benjamin Netanyahu, with his wife Sara Netanyahu behind him, speaking to the press before boarding a plane to the US, at Ben-Gurion Airport, on February 13, 2017. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

The US-Israel alliance is “about to get even stronger” during the Trump era, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday afternoon as he boarded a plane at Ben Gurion International Airport on his way to his first summit meeting with new US President Donald Trump.

“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.”

While “the alliance between Israel and America has always been extremely strong,” he said, it was “about to get even stronger.”

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara head to the US on February 13, 2017 (Avi Ohayun)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara head to the US on February 13, 2017 (Avi Ohayun)

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.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on February 12, 2017. (Emil Salman/POOL)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on February 12, 2017. (Emil Salman/POOL)

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.”

Netanyahu reportedly told the ministers he would declare his commitment to the two-state solution, but would also continue to spotlight the Palestinians’ reluctance to reach a peace deal. He said he would reiterate that West Bank settlements are not the main cause of the conflict, but rather the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump meeting at Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump meeting at Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“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.”

Netanyahu refused to answer further questions, including one reporter’s explicit query as to whether he would defy Bennett by discussing the issue of Palestinian statehood in the White House.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday and Trump at the White House on Wednesday, as well as Democratic and Republican congressional leaders.

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.”

According to a report on Sunday, Netanyahu also revealed to his ministerial colleagues details of his telephone conversation with Trump on January 22, in which the US president insisted the Palestinians could be pushed to make concessions for peace over Netanyahu’s protestations.

Citing an official familiar with events at the meeting, the Haaretz daily said Trump asked Netanyahu to explain how he intends to act to achieve a final peace agreement. Netanyahu told Trump that although he backs a two-state solution, he doesn’t believe that the Palestinians will make the required concessions. Trump responded by reassuring Netanyahu that the Palestinians will be flexible.

“They will want, they will make concessions,” Trump told Netanyahu, according to the official, who requested anonymity.

The US president has voiced support for clinching a peace deal, appointing his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a special envoy to oversee the process.

The prime minister shared details of the phone call with the security cabinet after Bennett and Shaked, the Jewish Home ministers, urged him to convince Trump to withdraw US backing for the two-state solution, according to the report.

Bennett and Shaked, as well as other government ministers, have increasingly talked of extending Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank adjacent to the Green Line, a move that is tantamount to the annexation of areas that Palestinians want for a future state.

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