WASHINGTON — Taking a break from scandals plaguing him back home, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retreated to familiar talking points in a gung-ho address to the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby Tuesday, vowing to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions and touting the US-Israeli relationship under US President Donald Trump.
Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference, Netanyahu also thanked Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and said Israel would boycott any country that tried to isolate it.
“If I have a message for you today, it is a very simple one: We must stop Iran, we will stop Iran,” the premier told nearly 18,000 people gathered at a convention center in the nation’s capital. The speech was punctuated by several rounds of applause for the prime minister — and a woman yelled out “I love you” at one point — reflecting the adulation with which Netanyahu is normally received at the Washington, DC, confab.
Remaining closely aligned with his American counterpart, Netanyahu vowed to stand with Trump’s ultimatum that either Congress and European allies would modify the 2015 nuclear accord — ending its sunset provisions, incorporating a ban on ballistic missile testing and increasing inspection access to Iran’s military sites — or would abrogate the landmark agreement.
“The president has also made clear that if the fatal flaws of the nuclear deal are not fixed, he will walk away from the deal and restore sanctions,” the prime minister said. “Israel will be right there by his side, and let me tell you, so will other countries in the region.”
Unsurprisingly, Netanyahu did not address the growing threat to his tenure, as Israeli police recently recommended the attorney general indict him on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust, while he is also being investigated on two other cases — and another one of his former aides, Nir Hefetz, turned state’s witness in one of the probes Monday.
Instead he stuck to familiar talking points, thanking Trump profusely for his December 6 announcement that he formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and then his scheduling of the opening of America’s new embassy there in May, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding.
“As I told President Trump yesterday,” Netanyahu said, referring to their bilateral meeting at the White House, “it is especially great to be in America’s capital now that he has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”
“Thank you, President Trump, for that historic decision,” he went on. ‘Thank you for announcing another decision — to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem this Independence Day.”
Speaking for more than 30 minutes, Netanyahu spent little time on the Trump administration’s push to solidify a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Israel remains committed to achieving peace with all our neighbors, including the Palestinians,” he said. “We appreciate the efforts of President Trump’s superb team,” which consists of Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, his Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
The Israeli leader did take the opportunity to advocate for legislation working its way through Congress that would cut aid to the Palestinian Authority if it did not cease its practice of making social welfare payments to the families of terrorists who kill Israelis.
If America passed the Taylor Force Act, named after an American who was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist while visiting Tel Aviv, it would send the message that “America has zero tolerance for terror.”
“To get peace, President Abbas has to embrace peace and to stop supporting terror,” Netanyahu said to the crowd. “Raise your hands if you agree with me that President Abbas should stop paying terrorists who murder Jews.”
“I have a message for President Abbas: Stop paying terrorists. Because what message does this send to Palestinian children? It says, ‘Murder Jews and get rich.’ I believe President Abbas should find greater use of this money,” he continued, listing potential infrastructure projects and other initiatives to improve the quality of life in the West Bank.
At one point early on, Netanyahu left his perch from the podium and walked around the stage as he accentuated Israel’s economic success and technological innovations, which he argued were strengthening its position around the globe as more and more countries rely on Israeli products and innovation.
“Remember all that talk about Israel’s isolation?” he asked. “Pretty soon the countries that don’t have relations with Israel, they will be isolated! All those countries that are talking about boycotting Israel — we’ll boycott them!”