US President Donald Trump appeared to distance himself from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday as the Israeli leader battled for his political survival after a tight election left him short of a Knesset majority.
Speaking with reporters in Los Angeles, Trump said he has not spoken with Netanyahu since Tuesday’s Knesset election, while indicating that the US relationship with Israel went beyond any individual leader.
“Those results are coming in and it’s very close,” Trump said. “Everybody knew it’s going to be very close. I said we’ll see what happens. Look, our relationship is with Israel. We’ll see what happens.”
Netanyahu made his close relationship with Trump a centerpiece of his reelection campaign, erecting billboards across the country showing him with the US president and other foreign leaders and casting aspersions on his rivals’ ability to match his diplomatic achievements.
For his part, Trump, in a move seen as an effort to boost Netanyahu, on Saturday tweeted that the two leaders had spoken regarding “the possibility of moving forward with a Mutual Defense Treaty” and that he looked “forward to continuing those discussions after the Israeli Elections.”
Together, we will continue full steam ahead with our common battle against terrorism.
Congratulations on your latest success against Bin Laden’s son. God bless America. God bless Israel.
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) September 14, 2019
Netanyahu’s office said Wednesday, however, that he would not travel to New York as planned for the UN’s annual General Assembly next week after failing to secure sufficient support in elections to form a new government with his right-wing political allies. Netanyahu’s office said he would forgo the trip due to the current “political circumstances,” without elaborating. It will be the first time Netanyahu has skipped the General Assembly since 2010, when then-foreign minister and current political nemesis Avigdor Liberman addressed world leaders at the forum.
His absence from the UN means he will not meet with Trump, who had anticipated discussing the defense pact with him on the sidelines of the UN event.
With over 95 percent of votes counted by Wednesday evening, Netanyahu’s Likud party was forecast to win 32 Knesset seats, one less than its centrist rival Blue and White. Together with its ultra-Orthodox and right-wing allies, Likud was set to win 56 seats, short of the 61 seats needed for a majority in the Knesset.
During the weeks before this year’s first Knesset election, on April 9, the White House made several moves that were seen by many as efforts to help Netanyahu secure reelection.
In early February, the US president shared on Instagram Netanyahu’s post showing a campaign billboard depicting him with the Israeli premier.
In March, more dramatically, he recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and hosted Netanyahu at a White House ceremony (but denied that the move was timed to boost Netanyahu at the polls).
On June 16, Trump thanked Netanyahu and the State of Israel for the “great honor” of naming a town in the Golan Heights after him; and on July 21 he congratulated Netanyahu for becoming Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, saying that under his leadership, “Israel has become a technology powerhouse and a world class economy.”