Signs of shift in White House thinking ahead of Netanyahu visit

Cabinet colleagues urge Israeli PM to drop support for two-state solution

Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu  will meet US president Donald Trump in the White House on Wednesday. Photograph: Gali Tibbon/EPA

Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu will meet US president Donald Trump in the White House on Wednesday. Photograph: Gali Tibbon/EPA

 

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has left Israel for a meeting on Wednesday at the White House with US president Donald Trump, as members of his right-wing coalition urged him to drop his support for the two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict.

Mr Netanyahu’s first face-to-face meeting with Mr Trump as president is seen as crucial to determining Israel’s relations with its most important ally amid expectations that a new era is under way following eight years of significant policy differences and turbulent personal relations during the Obama administrations.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, said this was an opportunity for Mr Netanyahu to drop his support for a Palestinian state. “If in their statements after the meeting they mention, for the first time in Trump’s term, their obligation to forming Palestine, we will all feel it in our flesh for years to come,” he said. “The earth will shake.”

The right wing in Israel hailed Mr Trump’s election as a unique window of opportunity to push forward with West Bank settlement expansion with at least tacit support from Washington. Mr Trump appointed an avowedly pro-settlement Jewish lawyer as his ambassador to Israel – although the appointment has still to be ratified – and vowed to fulfil his election promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Cautious Trump

However, ahead of this week’s White House meeting there were signs of a shift in thinking from Washington.

After initially failing to react to recent Israeli announcements of a surge in settlement building, Mr Trump cautioned that he did not believe that “going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace”. He also took a much more cautious approach regarding the embassy move, saying the matter was under consideration.

Ahead of his departure, Mr Netanyahu said he and Mr Trump “see eye to eye on the dangers emanating from the region, and also the opportunities”, but he warned that the president would not give Israel free rein to do what it wanted.

“Even after eight years of complex navigation in the tenure of Obama, we still need to continue to act wisely with the Trump administration. While it is a more comfortable administration [to work with] there will still be restrictions,” Mr Netanyahu said.

He said top of the agenda would be Iran, and on this issue the two leaders appear to be on the same page: both are extremely critical of the agreement signed between Tehran and the international powers curbing Iran’s nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.

Mr Netanyahu will also be pushing for Mr Trump’s support to curb any Iranian or Hizbullah presence on the Syrian Golan Heights border with Israel.