The head of Israel's Mossad and its acting national security adviser made a secret visit to Washington D.C. two weeks ago and met with senior aides to President Donald Trump to coordinate policy between the Israeli government and the new U.S. administration, a senior official in Jerusalem said.
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Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and acting National Security Adviser Jacob Nagel met with Trump's National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn and other officials in the new administration two days before the president's January 20 inauguration.
The meeting between Cohen and Nagel was the second of its kind since Trump's election, with the first taking place in the beginning of December. Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, joined the meetings during both visits.
The talks focused on Iran, the situation in Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The officials exchanged opinions and information as part of the new U.S. administration's efforts to devise policies on these issues, according to a senior Jerusalem official. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau confirmed that Cohen and Nagel visited Washington and met with Flynn but would not provide details on the talks.
Overnight Thursday, the White House published its first a statement regarding settlement construction following a string of decisions by Israel to advance the construction of over 6,000 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The statement also followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's announcement that he would advance the establishment a new settlement – the first in some 20 years – to house the settlers evacuated from the outpost of Amona, taken down last week after years of delays.
The White House released the statement two hours after the Jerusalem Post published a report citing senior White House officials as saying that Israel didn't inform the Trump administration ahead of time about plans to announce construction over the past two weeks, and that these announcements undermine Trump's efforts to promote the peace process. Senior officials in Jerusalem confirmed that this week's announcement of plans to build 3,000 housing units in the West Bank wasn't coordinated with the White House.
The official White House statement, which was signed by press secretary Sean Spicer, said that expanding the settlements in the West Bank could impede the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"The American desire for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians has remained unchanged for 50 years," the statement said. "While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.
"As the president has expressed many times, he hopes to achieve peace throughout the Middle East region," the statement continued. "The Trump administration has not taken an official position on settlement activity and looks forward to continuing discussions, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu when he visits with President Trump later this month."
On Thursday, shortly before the White House released its statement, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Netanyahu held their first phone call. The U.S. State Department did not provide details about the conversation. The Prime Minister's Office offered a brief response to the White House statement, saying that Netanyahu will discuss various issues with Trump during their February 15 meeting in Washington, including the settlements.
The prime minister promised security cabinet ministers to hold a session before he leaves in order to devise the policy he is to present to the U.S. president. On Friday, the cabinet convened for a long meeting during which the ministers heard the annual intelligence assessment compiled by the Military Intelligence, Mossad and Foreign Ministry. According to a source who took part in the meeting but asked to remain anonymous, diplomatic issues that are to be discussed with Trump didn't come up.
Netanyahu will travel to London on Sunday afternoon and will meet with his British counterpart Theresa May on Monday – their first meeting since she became premier last summer. A spokesman for May told reporters on Thursday that she is expected to tell Netanyahu that the British government's stance is that continued settlement construction undermines the trust required for the advancement of the peace process and the achievement of the two-state solution.