Netanyahu pledges US-Israel alliance 'about to become stronger.'
Speaking just before flying to Washington for his first meeting with President Donald Trump since he entered the White House in January, an optimistic prime minister maintained that the US-Israel alliance has always been strong, and will be strengthened further still in a number of fields during his meetings with senior figures in the Trump administration: 'President Trump and I see eye to eye.'
Before his departure, Netanyahu offered a few words to the press. “I am now leaving for a meeting of the utmost importance in Washington. There, I will meet with US President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and leaders of Congress and the Senate.”
Commenting on the general US-Israel relationship, which was somewhat sullied during the Obama administration, Netanyahu maintained that “the alliance was always extremely strong,” adding with palpable optimism, that “it is about the get stronger.”
He stressed that there was a general confluence of outlooks on the region as a whole. “President Trump and I see eye to eye on the threats and the opportunities in the region. We will speak about the two points and about enhancing the strong alliance in a large number of fields.”
Netanyahu sidestepped a question on whether he still supports the creation of a Palestinian state. He has never publicly abandoned his conditional backing for Palestinian statehood, which he first stated in 2009, but Palestinians say that commitment has been rendered worthless by Israeli settlement building on occupied land.
The prime minister went on to describe a “thorough conversation” in the cabinet that took place on Sunday “at the end of which I said simply: I will lead and I will direct. That is what I intend to do—to lead and direct the historic alliance for the good of our national interests and for the good of the citizens of Israel.”
Speaking to the ministers during Sunday’s cabinet session, Netanyahu said that when Trump was asked how to advance the peace process with the Palestinians during a phone conversation, Trump said he believes “that it is possible to convince the Palestinians to give up on things because they want peace.”
Netanyahu warned the ministers to be under no illusions: Trump still believes in carving out two states, he said, meaning that Israel had to act with caution, particularly in light of Trump's personality.
Netanyahu also sought to emphasize that there was no escaping the fact that Iran had to be a top priority of the discussions, even if it came at the expense of talks vis-a-vis construction in the West Bank.
The prime minister was forthright in his words to dispel any beliefs that Trump would march to Israel’s beat.
“Indeed, it is true that it will be more comfortable for Israel but anyone who thinks that there won’t be limits on Israel is mistaken,” he said.
Also commenting on the visit before Netanyahu took off, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz urged that Israel unequivocally reject the notion of a two-state solution.
“Israel needs to say loudly and clearly: no to a Palestinians state, yes to an expanded, complete and united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.”
Katz, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, called on the prime minister to raise the subject of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in accordance with Trump’s campaign pledge.
Speaking at the Jerusalem Conference, Katz added that Netanyahu must seek to gain Trump’s approval "for imposing Israeli sovereignty throughout Jerusalem, Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Givat Ze’ev and Beitar Illit to begin with.”
In addition, Katz implored Netanyahu to categorically refuse proposals pertaining to a freeze on “Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.”
The position was also echoed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) who spoke immediately after Katz.
“Mr. Prime Minister, we trust you, we support you 100 percent in safeguarding the State of Israel as a Jewish state in the Land of Israel,” Bennett opened.
“In the name of the entire nation of Israel, I wish for you to go in peace and return in peace,” he added, before segwaying into the main thrust of his speech designed to pick apart the concept of a Palestinian state, which he described as “delusional.” He said that two Palestinian states already existed in Jordan and in Gaza.
Also speaking at the conference, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) stated his support for a future peace agreement which included a demilitarized Palestinian state, on the condition that it did not harm the security of Israel.
However, he stressed that such a scenario was not practical at the moment. “I am of the Likud position, I am of the political right, and I don’t need approval of such from anyone.”
Turning to the upcoming meeting between Trump and Netanyahu, Kahlon said that “on the one hand there is a big opportunity but it must not be forgotten that these opportunities could be missed.
“We now have a friend in the US president and we must be extremely careful. We need to go on with strategy. I support the prime minister and trust that he will do the best possible. He is more experienced than all of us,” he acknowledged.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) slammed Bennett, accusing him and his ilk of contributing to the efforts of Israel’s enemies of dismantling Israel as Jewish state.
“The prime minister must decide whether he continues to be dragged by the radical right-wing Bennett who is rushing to annex millions of Palestinians into the State of Israel or he shows leadership and responsibility and during his meeting with the US president he returns with Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution.”