Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he would speak with US President Donald Trump by telephone later in the day on a wide range of issues, but also specifically on the threat posed by Iran.
Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said, “Many issues are before us: the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the situation in Syria and the Iranian threat.”
“I want to clarify, contrary to reports that I read, that ending the Iranian threat — primarily stopping the danger posed by the bad nuclear deal that was signed with Iran — continues to be a top priority of the government of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
The phone call between the two leaders is set for 8:30 p.m. Israel time, the White House said later Sunday.
The US-led deal with Iran, which aims to curb its nuclear development in exchange for sanctions relief, was one of the biggest points of conflict between Netanyahu and former US president Barack Obama.
During the election campaign, Trump described the nuclear deal as “disastrous” and said it would be his “number one priority” to dismantle it.
Yet he sowed confusion when he said he would demand greater oversight over the deal and enforce it, in a speech to the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC in March. In that same speech, he also said he would dismantle the deal.
In a December interview with CBS, Netanyahu said it was not too late to undo the deal that was Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, noting that he would present Trump with five alternatives to the accord, without elaborating.
“I think what options we have are much more than you think. Many more,” Netanyahu said when asked if he did not fear that abrogating the nuclear accord would put Tehran on the fast track to a nuclear weapon.
Netanyahu also addressed plans by right-wing lawmakers to pass legislation that would see Israel annex settlements near Jerusalem, but remained noncommittal.
“On the issue of settlement, none are more concerned about it than the Likud government and I, and we will continue to look out for it wisely and responsibly, for the benefit of the settlement enterprise and the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett has prepared a law that calls on Israel to extend its sovereignty over Ma’ale Adumim, east of Jerusalem, as a first step to annexing much of the West Bank.
Also Sunday, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz put forward his own plan, one that goes much further than Bennett’s and would include large settlement blocs to the north and south of Jerusalem too.
“Jerusalem first,” Katz wrote on Facebook. “Today I will propose at the security cabinet that we pass the ‘Greater Jerusalem Law’ that includes extending Israeli sovereignty to the surrounding communities of greater Jerusalem: Ma’ale Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Beitar Illit and the Etzion Bloc, while joining them to the city of Jerusalem and strengthening it by adding territory and Jewish population.”
Both initiatives come amid reports that Netanyahu told Bennett that he had spoken with advisers to Trump, who asked that Israel not “surprise” the US with any unilateral move before the two leaders have a chance to meet, likely in early February.
Ma’ale Adumim, a city of some 40,000 residents, straddles a ridge east of Jerusalem. Palestinians say it effectively divides the West Bank into two non-contiguous sections north and south of the city, and thereby makes a viable future Palestinian state less attainable.
Israel has controlled the West Bank since capturing it in the 1967 Six Day War but has never moved to annex any of the territory beyond extending sovereignty to East Jerusalem. It later applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights, captured from Syria.