In two days time, there will likely be some clarity over President Donald Trump’s ever-evolving stance on Israeli settlements, and whether or not he will pursue moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
After exchanges of mutual admiration, over social media, in relation to Israel’s wall as a harbinger of the U.S. policy with Mexico, Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are due to meet in person tomorrow for the first time since inauguration. They are expected to discuss the future of U.S.-Israel relations, and key points that could dash Palestinian aspirations for statehood.
Speaking to reporters at the tarmac in Israel yesterday morning, Netanyahu gave his last comments on Trump before the Feb. 15 sit-down in Washington DC, stating, “The alliance between Israel and America has always been extremely strong. It’s about to get even stronger.”
“President Trump and I see eye to eye on the dangers emanating from the region but also on the opportunities. And we’ll talk about both, as well as upgrading the relations between Israel and the United States in many, many fields,” he said.
In advance of the head to head, Netanyahu had a flurry of sessions with advisors in his cabinet, officials in national security, the top-ranks of the foreign ministry, as well as one high-profile Republican funder who is also a staunch supporter of Netanyahu.
Reportedly the big issues right-wing leaders in Israel want Netanyahu to advance in his talk with Trump are increasing settlement construction, announcing an official end to the two-state negotiations process with the Palestinians, and promoting the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. While the contents of the discussions Netanyahu held are confidential, he did disclose in a statement yesterday that there was “great excitement” among those he consulted.
Reports out of Israel are sharply contradictory on Netanyahu’s plans.
Netanyahu will use the sessions in Washington as an opportunity to lobby Trump against Palestinian statehood, according to unnamed sources quoted by the pro-settler outlet Arutz Sheva. The news outlet gets funding from a charity run by David Friedman, who is Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel.
“Sources privy to the meeting told Arutz Sheva that Jewish Home ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked called upon Netanyahu to make clear to President Trump he intends to renounce the two-state solution, the Prime Minister allegedly warned them Israel must avoid any possible clashes with Trump,” Arutz Sheva reported.
On Facebook, Bennett, the right-wing Knesset member and head of the Jewish Home party, elaborated, “the two words ‘Palestinian state’ are a historic disaster.”
The Times of Israel reported Bennett also said Netanyahu must avoid stating by name “an obligation to establish Palestine or ‘two states’ in some or other iteration, [or] we will all feel it in our flesh for years to come. It will be an earthquake.”
However, Netanyahu was said to have prepared an offer to re-start negotiations without preconditions that he would then present to Trump. Palestinians in the past have rejected this offer stating they want to return to peace talks when Israel agrees to a settlement freeze.
Arutz Sheva added Netanyahu is not confident that Trump will support an increase in settlement construction in the West Bank.
Since Trump took office Israel approved a spike in numbers of settlement units, more than 6,000, and passed a controversial law that legalizes Israeli takeovers of Palestinian lands in the occupied territory.
“Anyone who believes construction will be unrestricted in the new era is mistaken,” Arutz Sheva reported Trump said, relayed by a source who was in one of the pre-Washington meetings.
Meanwhile, Haaretz reported earlier last week Netanyahu sat with Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul and billionaire funder to the GOP who has backed both Trump and Netanyahu. The two reportedly discussed Adelson’s stance against the creation of a Palestinian state, the possible move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and online gambling.
Adelson was also reported to have had dinner at the White House with Trump last week.
Although generally considered to be more in line with Israel’s hardliners than his predecessor, Trump’s precise views on Israeli settlements have been muddied by conflicting remarks made between the campaign and his presidency. Initially, Trump came out as ambivalent on Israeli construction in the occupied Palestinian territory, then he became an ardent supporter as the November election neared. But in recent days, Trump has walked back his once full support for Israeli building in the West Bank.
Trump elaborated in an interview with Israel Hayom last week, a first to Israeli media since his inauguration (the paper is owned by Adelson):
“They [settlements] don’t help the process. I can say that. There is so much land left. And every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left. But we are looking at that, and we are looking at some other options we’ll see. But no, I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”
On the embassy, he also said the move to Jerusalem was not a done deal:
I am studying the embassy [issue], and we will see what happens. The embassy is not an easy decision.
What is clear is that Trump and Netanyahu have mutual admiration. Trump described their relationship as more than positive. “I have always liked him,” when asked if the two have “good chemistry.”
In fact, Trump and Netanyahu have known each other nearly four decades, becoming aquatinted in New York when Netanyahu was starting his political career as an ambassador to the UN and Trump was a young real estate businessman, reported the Washington Post.
Netanyahu also knew the president’s father, Fred Trump, according to the Post.