PNN / Bethlehem
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was met with a warm reception by United States’ President Donald Trump during his visit to the annual AIPAC conference on Monday, offering both leaders a restpite from their respective looming political crises.
International commentators viewed Netanyahu’s visit as a ‘victory lap’ after the US President’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last December.
The decision drew the ire of the international community but further emboldened the governing coalition under Netanyahu whose relationship with the United States had been strained under former-President Barack Obama.
The forthcoming American peace plan for the Middle East, dubbed the ‘Ultimate Deal’, was scarcely mentioned during the meeting of the two leaders.
Haaretz correspondent, Noa Landau, who was present for the AIPAC conference, tweeted on Tuesday that ‘The Netanyahu-Trump meeting lasted more than two hours. But according to him, the Palestinian subject too about fifteen minutes.
‘That’s the whole story. The ultimate peace deal? There will be nothing because there is nothing. The prime minister said he had not seen a draft of the program and did not display a schedule.’
When questioned by members of the press present at the meeting on the ‘Ultimate Deal’, President Trump said that ‘the Palestinians I think are wanting to come back to the table very badly.’
Further questioning failed to elaborate the issue any further, with President Trump apathetically stating that; ‘if they (Palestinians) don’t (come back to the negotiating table), you don’t have peace, and that’s a possibility also. I’m not saying it’s going to happen. Everybody said this is the hardest deal to make of any deal.’
President Trump also added that, ‘no one could get past Jerusalem, we’ve taken it off the table.’
The meeting was largely light on substance and consisted mostly of pleasantries and familiarities with both leaders taking the chance to pat each other on the back.
Prime Minister Netanyahu introduced President Trump within the context of key moments in Jewish history, recalling ‘the proclamation of the great king, Cyrus the Great – Persian King. 2500 years ago he proclaimed that the Jewish exiles in Babylon could come back and rebuild our temple in Jerusalem.’
‘We remember 100 years ago, Lord Balfour who issued the Balfour proclamation that recognised the rights of the Jewish people in ancestral homeland.
‘We remember 70 years ago, President Truman was the first leader to recognise the Jewish state; and we remember how a few weeks ago, President Donald J Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Mr President, this will be remembered by our people throughout the ages.’
‘I want to thank you on behalf of the people of Israel.’
President Trump also raised the possibility that he may be in attendance at the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem on May 13th, the week of Israeli Independence Day celebrations, as well as Nakba commemorations.
‘We’re looking at coming,’ said the President. ‘If I can, I will, but I’ll be there again. Israel is very special to me.’
Problems at home:
Netanyahu departed Israel on Saturday amid a number of crises at home.
The Prime Minister faces the possibility of an early election should a gridlock between the Ultra-Orthodox parliamentary leaders and the governing coalition not be resolved.
Ultra-Orthodox Knesset members are holding the 2019 budget for ransom, threatening to withhold approval should two bills not be passed that would exempt yeshiva (Jewish religious) students from mandatory military service until the age of 26, from the standard age of 18; and that would further align legislation with prior ‘Basic Laws’ that prioritize Jewishness at the core of the Israeli state over equality, and therefore strip the High Court of its power to enforce Orthodox conscription.
As a result, Finance Minister Mosche Kahlon, widely seen as the weak link in the coalition, threatened to depart should the budget not pass on time and in effect collapse the governing coalition.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister also faces the possibility of indictment on corruption charges.
Last month, Israeli police released the findings of their months long investigation into allegations of corruption and abuse of power by Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.
Police recommended that charges be placed against Netanyahu, and as such the matter was forwarded on to the Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, who has yet to decide whether he will press forward with the charges.
On Monday, Israeli press reported that a third confidant close to Netanyahu had turned state witness – reportedly Netanyahu’s former media advisor – exacerbating pressure on AG Mandelblit as well as on the leading right-wing coalition that have thus far rallied behind Netanyahu.
President Trump, similarly, faces challenges on a number of fronts.
The months long extraordinary investigation by former FBI director, Robert Muller, has been slowly gaining momentum.
The investigation, which is operating in parallel to investigations by the House of Representatives, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and ongoing investigations by the FBI, was commissioned to objectively investigate allegations that meddling by Russia in the 2016 election was utilised by the Trump campaign to to secure his successful candidacy.
Last month, Muller’s investigators indicted 13 Russian nationals for alleged interference in the 2016 election.
Last week, President Trump’s son-in-law and special envoy to the Middle East, Jared Kushner, had his temporary top-secret security clearance downgraded amid fears that foreign nationals were attempting to sway Kushner, reported the Washington Post.
Foreign nations, including China, the UAE, Mexico, and Israel, were reportedly attempting to take advantage of Kushner’s intricate business dealings and current bankruptcy concerns as to leverage positive decisions in their favour.
Kushner is currently presiding over the so-called ‘Ultimate Deal’ alongside Special Envoy, Jason Greenblatt, as well as trade deals with Mexico.
The Trump family trust, under Kushner’s custodianship, was in the past involved with Israeli settler groups and IOF veteran advocacy groups, according to US tax information.
The downgrading of Kushner’s temporary status is a major blow to his ability to negotiate the peace plan and will heavily restricted what information he can view.
The decision was made by White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, who, according to sources at the Washington Post, was ‘taken aback’ by the intricacy of Kushner’s business dealings.
The White House is yet to announce any recourse for the matter.