Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry Wednesday, as he wraps up a visit to the US that has seen the Israeli leader make strides in repairing ties with the Obama administration and other Democrats.
On Tuesday night, Netanyahu met with Senate leaders for an hour-long discussion on US-Israel relations and military aid.
Democrat Dick Durbin, one of the senators who met Netanyahu on Capitol Hill, said Netanyahu and Kerry would discuss peace efforts for the last fourteen months of the Obama presidency.
On Monday, Netanyahu said he was committed to a two-state solution and had not given up on peace, after the White House indicated it did not expect to see a peace deal, or even talks, before Obama leaves office in January 2017.
Durbin called the meeting with the lawmakers “important” for repairing a relationship strained by disagreement over the Palestinian issue and the Iran nuclear deal.
“We didn’t dwell on the Iran nuclear agreement,” Durbin said of the Tuesday meeting. “Talked about it. But didn’t dwell on it. This was an important step back into a bipartisan relationship.”
“We have to have more dialogue and more understanding as to the current security challenges facing Israel. … As important as I believe the Iran nuclear agreement was, it doesn’t make Israel a safe nation. It is still in danger,” Durbin said.
“He talked about the current threats from Iran and they are substantial.
US-Israel relations were frayed over the past year by the nuclear deal that the US and other world powers signed with Iran in the summer under which Tehran will receive relief from international sanctions in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program.
In March, Netanyahu gave a controversial speech before both houses of the US Congress at the invitation of the Republican House speaker at the time, John Boehner, a move that angered the White House and many Democratic legislators, some of whom skipped the speech.
The speech and surrounding tussle with the administration over Iran was seen by some as harmful to historically bipartisan support for Israel in Washington.
On Monday, Netanyahu met with US President Barack Obama, describing the sit-down as “one of the best they’ve had.” In remarks ahead of the meeting, the two sounded a cordial tone, pushing aside their at times testy relationship.
In the wake of the nuclear agreement, the Obama administration is considering increasing the amount of security assistance to Israel. Annual US aid to Israel currently exceeds $3 billion a year and Israel is reportedly seeking to bump that to $5 billion annually.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said no dollar amount was discussed at the meeting with lawmakers.
He played down any rift Netanyahu has with Congress, saying those senators who voted for the Iran nuclear deal went out of their way at the meeting to explain to Netanyahu that there is bipartisan support for Israel in Congress. According to Corker, Netanyahu said he knew that.
On Monday, Netanyahu held a one-on-one meeting with Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, one of the few Democrats to vote against the Iran deal. Neither Schumer nor Netanyahu revealed what was discussed in the meeting.
Netanyahu has sounded a conciliatory tone during his Washington trip this week, telling the progressive think tank Center for American Progress on Tuesday that Israel was ready to pull back from West Bank areas in order to allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state — on condition that Israel retained security control over the territory of that state “for the foreseeable future.”
A negotiated peace, he said, was preferable to a unilateral withdrawal.
That comment drew criticism from Netanyahu’s right-wing flank at home Wednesday.
“Talk of [handing over territory] in the midst of a terror wave sends the opposite message from what is needed,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett, of the Jewish Home party which opposes any West Bank withdrawal, said Wednesday morning.
“The enemy must be punished for terror, not rewarded for the murder of Jews,” Bennett said.