Ahead of first Trump meeting with PM, Likud’s no. 2 urges ‘humility,’ warns against ‘dictating’ position to US president
February 13, 2017
All Israel’s cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state in the near term, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan insisted on Monday.
“I think all the members of the cabinet oppose a Palestinian state, and the prime minister first among them — some [ministers] for reasons that might be ideological, biblical, and some from security considerations,” Erdan told Army Radio.
A few seconds later added, “No one thinks that in the next few years a Palestinian state is something that, God forbid, might and should happen.”
At a security cabinet meeting Sunday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, demanded that Netanyahu use his Wednesday summit with US President Donald Trump to announce that Israel would no longer pursue the two-state solution.
The prime minister warned ministers that the Trump administration, while friendlier than Obama’s, would not tolerate unlimited construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Channel 2 reported.
During their meeting, Netanyahu and Trump are expected to discuss Iran, Syria and the Palestinians, as well as issues related to security and intelligence coordination.
Likud ministers have castigated Bennett for publicly pressuring Netanyahu ahead of the visit.
Erdan said he believes “without a doubt” that a Palestinian state in the near term “is a bad idea that needs to be set aside, what with Hamas in the south, and [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] weak and not fighting incitement.”
Nevertheless, he added, “I just don’t think you dictate to an American president his position.”
The second-highest-ranked Likud politician after Netanyahu, Erdan urged ministers to “remember that the prime minister is the most experienced and most accomplished [among us] when it comes to leading on the diplomatic issue.”
He said the four-hour discussion in the security cabinet Sunday was “long, in-depth and very calm, despite what’s been reported.” But ultimately it was Netanyahu who had to consider “what’s the right way to present Israel’s interests before President Trump.
“I mean, let’s be a little humble here. [Trump] wasn’t elected for Israel. He was elected for the citizens of the US. We’re America’s strongest ally in the world — that’s how we see ourselves — and, as they say, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
“The most important thing, in the view of most of the ministers who spoke yesterday in the cabinet, is [that Netanyahu establish] personal chemistry and trust-building. There will be other meetings. This isn’t the last one,” he said.
Israelis do not actually know Trump’s exact views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Erdan said. But they should take comfort in the simple fact of the upcoming meeting.
“Notice that [Trump] is meeting the prime minister right at the beginning of the term. With [Barack] Obama the meeting was delayed until May. Here the prime minister is invited before even all the teams dealing with the Middle East have been appointed. That certainly expresses friendship and closeness,” said Erdan.
Netanyahu will set out for Washington on Monday.
The meeting is expected to mark a first test for the new relationship after eight years of tension between Netanyahu and Trump’s predecessor.
Since Trump’s inauguration last month, Israel has approved thousands of new housing units over the Green Line, announced plans for the creation of the first new settlement in two decades, and passed a controversial outpost legalization law. The White House has refrained from condemning those moves, having signaled a more accommodating approach toward settlement activity, but warned earlier this month they may not be “helpful.”
And in a more direct critique of the issue, Trump said in an interview published on Friday in the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom that settlement growth was not “good for peace.”
The remarks caught many Israelis by surprise, even as Trump has also been edging away from a campaign pledge to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, saying “we will see what happens.” Mark Heller, a political scientist at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, said the embassy issue was “marginal, to the extent that such a promise is unlikely to be kept.”
Heeding Trump’s warning and the climate of uncertainty, Netanyahu reportedly told the security cabinet on Sunday ahead of his departure for the US that those convinced there will be no restrictions on West Bank settlement construction during the Trump administration were mistaken.
He also cautioned ministers that Israel must tread lightly, avoid confrontation, and take Trump’s “personality into account,” the Channel 2 report said.
“In Washington, Benjamin Netanyahu will test his room to maneuver (with Trump) on settlements,” Heller said.
“For [the past] three weeks Donald Trump has been speaking differently,” said Michael Oren, deputy minister in charge of diplomacy in Netanyahu’s office. “We must act cautiously.”
During his three-day visit, Netanyahu will also meet with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and other top officials.
Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, is scheduled to meet Melania Trump.
AFP contributed to this report.