WASHINGTON – Following Prime Minister Netanyahu's meeting in Washington on Monday with U.S. President Donald Trump, the premier reportedly said that he is trying to resolve the tension in his government so it can complete its term.
When Netanyahu left for Washington over the weekend, his coalition was deadlocked over demands by his ultra-Orthodox coalition partner, United Torah Judaism, to pass a law before the 2019 state budget goes through, which would exempt Haredi yeshiva students from the draft.
His trip to Washington also came at a time of a widening police investigation of suspected criminal wrongdoing, now focusing on Netanyahu's ties to the controlling shareholder of the Israeli telecom giant Bezeq and its news website.
“Before we left we dealt with it – myself and chief of staff Yoav Horowitz – and we had several conversations in an attempt to prevent the political crisis and to let this government live out its term," the prime minister was quoted as saying about the coalition crisis.
"That’s the preferred goal, not just for me but for the other partners. Here we have all kinds of conditions by all kinds of elements that aren’t allowing a resolution of this issue. I hope we will succeed. We’ve been dealing with it from here [Washington] as well.”
Associates of the prime minister said, however, that if United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman holds fast to his position, it would be hardto believe that the crisis can be resolved.
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In his talks with Trump, Netanyahu is said to have remarked that Iran dominated the discussion, although Israel's relations with the Palestinians were also mentioned.
Despite a downgrade of the security clearance of Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, Netanyahu reportedly said that Kushner was present during a luncheon. “We did not deal with his issue, not even a word,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying in a reference to Kushner’s security clearance. “I don’t want to go into it. He participated in the broad discussion."
Kushner has been heavily involved in White House policy regarding Israel and the Palestinians, and the Trump administration is currently working on what it says is a proposed peace plan at a time when relations with the Palestinians are also stalemated. “Trump didn’t give a timetable for their plan," Netanyahu reportedly said.
Referring to the 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas after Israel's withdrawal from the territory in 2005, Netanyahu said: "If you leave a place, it’s immediately grabbed by terror elements. What interests me is how to prevent a Gaza-like situation from repeating itself in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]."
While Israel’s freedom of action did not come up in the meeting, the issue of precision missiles was raised, which Netanyahu reportedly called “a tangible threat to Israel.”
“Iran, Iran and Iran was the main topic of the meeting. In another 60 days the president has to make an important decision regarding the nuclear agreement. I think that he shows great interest in my assessments,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying.
“The conversation lasted an hour longer than was allotted for it. A large part of it was devoted to this issue. I told him what I thought: That the nuclear agreement with Iran must be either totally fixed or totally canceled, and there were detailed discussions on this issue.
“We also spoke about Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinians. Around half the time about Iran, maybe even a little more, and the second half on the rest of these issues. We didn’t spend more than 15 minutes of the conversation on the Palestinian issue. I also brought up our prisoners and those missing in action and asked for their help; I also brought up Jonathan Pollard.
“The president is very knowledgeable about the Iranian issue and very determined. Of course we’ll wait for the result but he has impressive mastery of the details, and regarding the Palestinian and regional issue he asked a lot of questions. About the missile threat, for example. He spoke about security question and their integration with political problems.
“We did not see a draft of their peace plan. I cannot say on their behalf whether there is one or not. They will decide when to release it. I gave him very clear advice about Iran," Netanyahu reportedly said. “The president recognizes the challenge posed by Iran. To a great extent we see things eye to eye. That’s a very precise statement. Anything beyond what I’ve said won’t be helpful."
On the subject of other countries that may move their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem, the prime minister said: “There are other countries with which we’re discussing moving embassies to Jerusalem, besides the United States and Guatemala."
Netanyahu reportedly also noted that "the evacuation of settlements didn’t come up at all" in his talks with Trump.
Regarding Trump’s remarks that there may not be peace, Netanyahu said, “You can’t conduct peace negotiations without the Palestinians. The preferred situation is that the Palestinians will want to resolve the conflict and educate their public toward resolving the conflict. He said simply that the Palestinians are running away from negotiations in every possible way.”
In the face of reported allegations of wrongdoing by Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu family media adviser, sources close to Netanyahu have said that allegations against his wife, Sara, and son Yair are nonsense and that they cast doubt over Hefetz's credibility after he entered an agreement with the police to turn state's evidence.
Hefetz has agreed to testifying against the prime minister in Case 4000, a police investigation involving allegations that the prime minister and his wife, Sara, sought favorable coverage from the Walla news site in exchange for regulatory benefits to the telecommunications giant Bezeq, which owns Walla. Hefetz will not stand trial, face prison time or be fined. While he testifies, he will be housed at an isolated installation.
According to the Israel Television News Company, formerly known as Channel 2 News, Hefetz has told associates: "Inspired by his son Yair and his influence, Bibi [the prime minister] has demonstrated national irresponsibility and has taken decisions that have harmed Israel's national interests and state security. I have high regard for Bibi but he has been taken prisoner by his wife and son."
In an apparent reference to the controversy over the extent to which the government could influence the new public broadcasting corporation, Hefetz said the prime minister was prepared to compromise on the corporation. "Then Yair went wild and Bibi changed his stance. Son Yair has caused harm to his father and the state. That's why I left [in October 2017]."