Taking Off for Washington for AIPAC, Trump Meeting, Netanyahu Says: Israel Not Heading to Early Election

Netanyahu will address AIPAC Tuesday, followed by meetings with members of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill

U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk along the Colonnade at the White House, February 15, 2017.
Shealah D. Craighead / The White

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departed for Washington early Sunday, where he will meet with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House Monday. The two leaders are expected to discuss the U.S. ultimatum with European powers on the Iran nuclear deal.

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Before takeoff, Netanyahu, who is mired in corruption investigations, was asked if Israel was heading to an early election due to infighting in his government over the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox into the army: "No reason for [early elections] to take place, and with good will there's no need for us to go to elections.

"I have goodwill and I can only hope our partners (in government) have good will. Now I'm going to deal with other things. But I wish to thank all those Israelis coming out to embrace and support me," he said.

Netanyahu also said he plans hold talks with Trump on a number of issues, but first and foremost is Iran and the need to stop its regional aggression. He also said he would "discuss with Trump the possibility that he will open the new American embassy in Jerusalem."

>> Netanyahu's Washington schedule: Trump, AIPAC and the Economic Club <<

On Tuesday, Netanyahu is to address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in Washington, followed by meetings with members of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives on Capitol Hill.

Trump announced in January that if the United States and the European countries failed to reach agreement to amend the nuclear deal, Washington would walk away from it.

Netanyahu is also expected to raise the issue of Iran's continuing entrenchment in Syria and in Lebanon, and to thank Trump for his decision to accelerate the relocation of the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Sources close to the prime minister say he will invite Trump to the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on Independence Day. 

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This is the fifth meeting between the two leaders in a year. Trump will also be hosting Netanyahu in the Blair House – a presidential guest house in Washington. 

"In my conversation with the president I want to thank him on behalf of the people of Israel for the transfer of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, in honor of the State of Israel's 70th Independence Day," Netanyahu said of his upcoming visit.

"We will discuss Iranian aggression in our region in general,and especially with regard to the Iranian nuclear program. I will also discuss with the President the advancement of peace. The advancement of these subjects are important to Israel and important to the security of the entire world"

Casting a shadow over the meeting will be the White House announcement last month criticizing Netanyahu for telling Likud lawmakers he was discussing annexation of West Bank settlements to Israel with the U.S. administration. A White House spokesman said no such discussions were held and that the reports were "false."

According to figures close to Netanyahu, Jerusalem and Washington are coordinated on the issue and ascribe the "misunderstanding" to talks on the subject with the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.

U.S. officials are expected to raise the Trump administration's forthcoming "peace deal" to Netanyahu. In February, Trump said in an interview with Israel Hayom editor-in-chief Boaz Bismuth that he had doubts about the willingness of Israel and the Palestinians to reach a peace agreement.

"Right now, I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace, they are not looking to make peace. And I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace," said Trump. When asked what Israel would have to give, in the context of an agreement with the Palestinians, in return for the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as its capital, the president said, "I think both sides will have to make hard compromises to reach a peace agreement." In answer to a question about whether the settlements will be part of the plan, Trump said: "We will be talking about settlements. The settlements are something that very much complicates and always have complicated making peace, so I think Israel has to be very careful with the settlements."

Regarding the police investigations of Netanyahu, a senior White House official told Haaretz a few weeks ago that they were an "internal Israeli matter."

On Wednesday the prime minister will attend an economic forum in the capital before flying to New York in the evening for a Jewish Agency gala honoring Natan Sharansky on the 30th anniversary of his release from a Soviet prison. Former U.S. President George W. Bush will be a special guest at the event. On Thursday, Netanyahu is slated to visit an exhibition on Jerusalem at United Nations headquarters that was initiated by Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin.