WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday for their fifth meeting in the last year. During their joint remarks, Trump warned that there won't be peace if the Palestinians refuse to return to the negotiating table.
The meeting takes place as Israel is rocked by the latest dramatic development in the Netanyahu corruption scandals: A third confidant turned state's evidence.
The president and his wife Melania greeted Netanyahu and his wife Sara outside the White House before the two leaders delivered joint remarks on the planned U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem.
Trump told reporters that he intends to build the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem quickly, adding that he may visit for the planned dedication slated for May 2018. "I said we’re not going to spend a billion dollars. We’re actually doing it for about $250,000,” Trump noted.
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Trump said that "no one could get past Jerusalem, we've taken it off the table," adding that he believes the Palestinians intend to return to the negotiating table, "and if they don't, there will be no peace."
Netanyahu compared Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital to Cyrus the Great ending the Babylonian exile, the Balfour Declaration and Harry Truman's recognition of the State of Israel in 1948. He added that "the biggest challenge in the Middle East is Iran. It must be stopped."
Netanyahu and Trump are expected to discuss the U.S. ultimatum to the European powers on the Iran nuclear deal during their meeting. In January, Trump announced that if the United States and the European countries failed to reach agreement on amending the deal, Washington would walk away from it.
Netanyahu is expected to raise the issue of Iran’s continuing entrenchment on the ground and the construction of factories for precision-guided missiles in Syria and Lebanon. The prime minister will thank Trump for his decision to accelerate the relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and invite the president to attend the opening of the new embassy.
Before boarding the plane Saturday night for his flight to the United States, Netanyahu said: “First of all, I will thank [President Trump] for the historic decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem on [Israeli] Independence Day. This is a very big present for our country.” He went on to add that Iran would be the focus of their meeting: “its aggression, its nuclear aspirations, and its aggressive actions in the Middle East in general and on our borders, all of [Israel’s borders], in particular.”
The meeting, however, will be held in the shadow of the state's evidence agreement signed by a third Netanyahu confidant. Nir Hefetz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's "spin doctor" and confidant, reached a deal with police to turn state's evidence in the bribery case involving the Bezeq telecom giant and the Walla news site.
He will hand over recordings of Netanyahu and his wife Sara as part of the deal. A senior White House official told Haaretz a few weeks ago that the investigations against Netanyahu were an “internal Israeli matter.”
There has been one dark cloud in the otherwise blue sky that is Trump-Netanyahu relations since the U.S. president was inaugurated in January 2017. That came last month, after the Israeli premier said the two sides had spoken about a specific proposal regarding Israeli annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Within hours, the White House responded that such claims were false. “The United States and Israel have never discussed such a proposal, and the president’s focus remains squarely on his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative,” White House spokesman Josh Raffel said.
U.S. officials are expected to bring up with Netanyahu the “peace deal” that the Trump administration still hopes to put forth. Last month 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. When asked what Israel would have to give, in the context of an agreement with the Palestinians, in return for U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as its capital, Trump said “both sides will have to make hard compromises.”
The president said Israel’s 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.”
Something else that could have a dimming effect on the meeting is the reports in The Washington Post that officials in Israel and three other countries discussed ways to manipulate Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, “due to the family company’s financial needs and his lack of experience.” Kushner’s security clearance was recently lowered as a result of the affair.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu will address the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) Policy Conference in the U.S. capital.