Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu will have his first meeting with Trump this week, a new lease on a relationship damaged by friction between himself and Trump’s predecessor. Netanyahu’s hopes were raised by Trump’s original embrace of Israel’s hard-line right-wing establishment, led by the Prime Minister, according to the Chicago Tribune. For instance, Trump’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal was a welcome change for a government that had stridently rejected any sort of overtures to Tehran.
Since then, however, Trump has shifted back toward the center, a fact that Netanyahu, according to The New York Times, has brushed off, saying that it was unrealistic to expect the two countries to agree on all issues.
Most importantly, the meeting is expected to be significantly warmer than Netanyahu’s cold relations with Obama – relations that were not helped by the Prime Minister’s apparent snubs toward the White House which included an address to the House of Representatives and the cancellation of a meeting via television interview.
Sallai Meridor, former Israeli ambassador to Washington, said: “It is a very important meeting. It is a new president.” The key was that, since Trump’s policies in the region were not yet set in stone, the meeting would give Netanyahu a chance to listen to each other, and build a relationship early on that would be a benefit to both nations.
Netanyahu is facing problems of his own, however. The Times of Israel reports Netanyahu addressing the pressure he’s faced from his own Home Cabinet, pushing him to use the first meeting to reject Palestinian statehood and announce the dissolution of the two-state solution to the conflict.
Channel 2 released a leak of the closed-door meeting where Netanyahu discussed the situation with his cabinet. Attempting to dampen expectations on his party’s right, the Prime Minister said that, ultimately, unlimited construction on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem would not be tolerated.
“Trump believes in a deal and in running peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” he said. “We should be careful and not do things that will cause everything to break down. We mustn’t get into a confrontation with him.”
Publicly, however, Netanyahu was brimming with confidence as he stepped onto the airplane. USA Today quoted him as saying that he and Trump “see eye to eye on the dangers emanating from the region but also on the opportunities.”
Dennis Ross, a State Department official, confirmed that the main item on their agenda, by far, was Iran.
Trump has been vocal in criticizing the Iran deal, calling it “the worst deal ever negotiated.” It’s a sentiment Netanyahu shares. For Jerusalem, the Iranian government is seen as an existential threat – it was not so long ago that Iran’s President Ahmadinejad called for Israel’s annihilation.
In the Prime Minister’s opinion, according to a December report by the Guardian, “it doesn’t prevent Iran from getting nukes.” Rather, he said “it paves the way for Iran to get nuclear weapons.”
As such, the Chicago Tribune reported Dennis Ross as saying, Benjamin Netanyahu will likely seek assurances from Trump that the U.S. will not stop at sanctions when it comes to Iran, but consider the possibility of a military response.
However, the Wall Street Journal recently reported the EU’s foreign policy chief stating that U.S. officials relayed that Trump has every intention of upholding the Iran deal.
In addition, he said, he will attempt to convince Trump to use his pull with Putin to have Russia convince Hezbollah and Iran to back off from Iran’s borders.
“I think at a minimum that there would be an understanding that the Trump administration will insist with Putin that an Iranian-Hezbollah-Shiite militia presence can’t go below a certain line within Syria,” he said.
Regardless of the results of the meeting, Netanyahu appears confident that it will mark a new beginning in American-Israeli relations. “The alliance between Israel and America has always been extremely strong,” he said before boarding the plane. “It’s about to get even stronger.”
What do you think about the upcoming meeting? What should be on the agenda? Should Trump work closely with Netanyahu, or should Trump forge his own path? Sound off in the comments and tell us what you think.
By James Mayfield