Putting annexation row behind them, Netanyahu, Trump set March meet

After rare White House rebuke of PM, US official tells Israeli TV disagreement is ‘already water under the bridge’

US President Donald Trump, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)
US President Donald Trump, right, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with US President Donald Trump next month when he visits Washington for the annual AIPAC confab, a White House official said Wednesday.

The meeting will come after the White House shot down Netanyahu’s assertion Monday that the US and Israel were discussing proposals for Israel to annex West Bank settlements, marking an unprecedented rebuke of the prime minister by the Trump administration.

The administration signaled Wednesday that the brief tiff had passed and the relationship between the leaders was still strong.

“The president has a tremendous relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu and looks forward to meeting with him. This was a long-planned meeting,” a White House official told The Times of Israel.

The AIPAC conference, an annual gathering of pro-Israel figures, is scheduled from March 4-6 in Washington.

An official told Israel’s Hadashot news that the annexation kerfuffle “is already water under the bridge and has no consequence to our relationship with Netanyahu.”

Netanyahu’s comment Monday was made at a faction meeting of his right-wing Likud party, whose top body unanimously passed a resolution in December urging its leaders to formally annex parts of the West Bank and allow unlimited construction in the settlements.

“I can tell you that for a while now I’ve been talking about it with the Americans,” Netanyahu said. “I’m guided by two principles in this issue … optimal coordination with the Americans, whose relationship with us is a strategic asset for Israel and the settlement movement; and the fact that it must be a government initiative rather than a private one because it would be a historic move.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on February 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Following the remark, a White House spokesman flatly denied that such talks have taken place.

“Reports that the United States discussed with Israel an annexation plan for the West Bank are false,” White House spokesman Josh Raffel said in a statement. “The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the president’s focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative.”

In the wake of the White House denial, Netanyahu swiftly backpedalled, with his office issuing a clarification that he had merely “updated the Americans on initiatives being presented in the Knesset.”

Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump next month will be his first since the police’s recommendation Tuesday that he be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a pair of corruption cases.

He has denied wrongdoing and said the allegations are “unfounded.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, August 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday that the police recommendations are an “internal Israeli matter.”

“The only thing I have to say about that is that the United States has a very strong relationship not only with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but also the Israeli government,” she said during a daily press briefing.

“We’re certainly aware of it, but we consider it to be an internal Israeli matter.”

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