Trump invites Netanyahu to Washington for visit, says White House
WASHINGTONU.S. President Donald Trump invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Washington in early February during a phone call in which they discussed the importance of strengthening the U.S.-Israeli relationship, the White House said on Jan. 22.
In his first call with Netanyahu since taking office on Jan. 20, Trump stressed his “unprecedented commitment to Israel’s security,” Reuters reported.
“The president and the prime minister agreed to continue to closely consult on a range of regional issues, including addressing the threats posed by Iran,” the White House said in a statement.
Trump also said peace between Israel and the Palestinians could only be negotiated between the two parties, but that the United States would work with Israel to achieve that goal.
Relations between Israel and the Obama administration ended on a contentious note, when the United States declined to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a halt to Israeli settlement-building.
Israel approved hundreds of new settler homes in east Jerusalem on Jan. 22, hours before the telephone call, which an Israeli statement described as “very warm.”
But a potentially explosive plan to annex a large West Bank Jewish settlement unilaterally was shelved until after Netanyahu and Trump meet.
“The prime minister expressed his desire to work closely with President Trump,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement, according to AFP.
The readout from the White House did not include any mention of moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, an action that would likely spark anger in the Arab world.
Earlier on Jan. 22, the White House said it was only in the early stages of talks to fulfill Trump’s campaign pledge to relocate the embassy.
“We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said in a statement. Aides said no announcement of an embassy move was imminent.
Washington’s embassy is in Tel Aviv, as are most foreign diplomatic posts. Israel calls Jerusalem its eternal capital, but Palestinians also lay claim to the city as part of an eventual Palestinian state. Both sides cite biblical, historical and political claims.
Any decision to break with the status quo is likely to prompt protests from U.S. allies in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt. Washington relies on those countries for help in fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which the new U.S. president has said is a priority.
Regarding the decision for the settlements, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Turjeman told AFP that “the rules of the game have changed with Donald Trump’s arrival as president.”
“We no longer have our hands tied as in the time of Barack Obama. Now we can finally build.”
The Palestinian presidency condemned the move, calling it a violation of the U.N. resolution.