US President Donald Trump allegedly instructed White House staff to provide him with a report on the ongoing criminal investigations involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the publication of comments the prime minister is purported to have said about Trump’s personality, the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported Wednesday.
On Sunday, Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu told the high-level security cabinet that while Trump is friendlier to Israel than former US president Barack Obama was, he would not tolerate unlimited settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and that Israeli leaders must avoid a “confrontation” with the new administration and take Trump’s “personality into account.”
According to Yedioth, which has long been harshly critical of Netanyahu and did not cite its source for the report, Trump’s advisers felt Netanyahu’s comments on the president’s personality to have crossed a red line, as they reportedly consider any reference to the president’s personality or questioning of his suitability for the office as a personal affront.
Trump, was reportedly briefed on Netanyahu’s comments, and is said in response to have ordered a report summarizing the current criminal investigations against Netanyahu, Yedioth said, in order to gauge if the Israeli prime minister is a lame duck politically or someone who, in the paper’s words, the president “can make deals with.”
There are two ongoing police investigations in which Netanyahu is considered a suspect, known by their police shorthand as “Case 1000” and “Case 2000.”
Case 1000 revolves around alleged illicit gifts given to Netanyahu and his family from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne said to have been given to the prime minister and his wife Sara by Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
Netanyahu and his wife are said to have denied that receiving the gifts constituted a criminal offense, claiming the value of the items was significantly lower than reported and that they were mere “trifles” exchanged between close friends.
Case 2000 is focused on an alleged clandestine quid pro quo deal made between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher and owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes, in which the prime minister is said to have promised Mozes he would advance legislation to reduce the circulation of Yedioth’s main commercial rival, the freebie Israel Hayom, in exchange for friendlier coverage from Yedioth. No such deal was ever implemented. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.
Wednesday’s report in Yedioth, if true, would seem to indicate a setback for Netanyahu on the eve of his meeting with Trump; the prime minister said prior to leaving for the US that Israel’s alliance with America will “get even stronger” under the new administration.
Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz told reporters Tuesday that the government would “consider using polygraphs” in response to the leaks of the prime minister’s reported comments on Trump’s personality, saying that such leaks — even if they appeared relatively harmless — were detrimental to Israeli security interests.
The prime minister’s reported remarks came on the heels of an interview with Trump published in Israel Hayom Friday and Sunday in which the US president — for the first time — expressed direct criticism of the settlement enterprise and its implications for future peace negotiations.
“Every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left,” Trump said. “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.”
The comments came as a shock to many on the right in Israel, who see in Trump an opportunity to expand settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem without US scrutiny and who have urged Netanyahu to take advantage of the meeting to retract his support for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
On Tuesday — the day before Netanyahu and Trump’s scheduled meeting — a senior White House official said that while the Trump administration will seek to broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the two-state solution may not necessarily be the framework by which peace will be accomplished.
Raphael Ahren and Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.