Trump to host Netanyahu at White House twice next week, 2 weeks before election

With PM in Washington to address AIPAC, administration says leaders will discuss 'shared interests and actions in the Middle East'

US President Donald Trump (R) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Donald Trump will twice host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington next week, the White House confirmed Wednesday, just two weeks before Israelis go to the polls for national elections on April 9.

Netanyahu and Trump will hold a “working meeting” on Monday, followed by a dinner at the White House on Tuesday, the US administration said in a statement.

“The president and the prime minister will discuss their countries’ shared interests and actions in the Middle East,” the statement said.

Netanyahu will be accompanied on the trip by his wife Sara, who is expected to attend the dinner alongside US First Lady Melania Trump.

The prime minister will be in Washington to address the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which runs from March 24 through 26.

While Netanyahu met with Trump last year while in Washington to speak at the pro-Israel lobby, this year’s meeting comes two weeks before general elections in Israel.

Netanyahu has touted his close ties with the US president as part of his campaign and his Likud party recently put up large posters at major intersections in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv of the two leaders shaking hands.

A Likud party campaign poster depicting US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands is seen in Tel Aviv on February 3, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Trump later shared a picture of the poster on his Instagram account, which the US Embassy in Israel insisted was not an endorsement of the prime minister.

The US president enjoys high levels of support among Israelis and has been praised in Israel for recognizing Jerusalem as the country’s capital and pulling out of the 2015 international nuclear deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program, which Netanyahu strongly opposed.

The White House announcement of Netanyahu’s visit came as the prime minister hosted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at his office in Jerusalem.

A State Department official told reporters last week that Pompeo’s visit was meant to show the United States’ “unwavering commitment” to the Jewish state and said he was meeting with Netanyahu as Israel’s head of government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, hosts US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at his office in Jerusalem on March 20, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Also set to speak at AIPAC next week is Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, a former military chief who has emerged as Netanyahu’s chief election rival.

A spokesperson for Blue and White told The Times of Israel that Gantz will not meet with Trump while in Washington.

Asked if it is fair that the president will only be meeting with Netanyahu and not Gantz, the spokesperson said it “wouldn’t be respectful to invite a candidate or challenger to meet at the White House.”

“Netanyahu is the incumbent and that is understood,” the spokesperson said.

Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump on Monday will take place an hour after Gantz speaks at AIPAC, according to Israel’s Channel 12 news.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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