President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted one another warmly Monday at the White House, touting U.S.-Israeli relations as “the best” they have ever been, in a sharp departure from the famously strained relations the Jewish State’s leader had with former President Barack Obama.
Trump hosted Netanyahu in the Oval Office in what was their first meeting since the U.S. announced its commitment to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“We have the best relationship right now with Israel that we’ve ever had."
“We have the best relationship right now with Israel that we’ve ever had,” Trump said.
During President Obama's two terms, he and Netanyahu had a tense relationship characterized by stiff body language and terse remarks when they met before the press. Obama's White House even sent out a press photo of the then-commander-in-chief on the Oval Office phone with Netanyahu in September, 2013, with his feet on the desk in what some saw as an intentional show of disrespect.
The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz fumed over the image.
“The president is seen with his legs up on the table, his face stern and his fist clenched, as though he were dictating to Netanyahu,” Ha'aretz wrote. “As an enthusiast of Muslim culture, Obama surely knows there is no greater insult in the Middle East than pointing the soles of one’s shoes at another person. Indeed, photos of other presidential phone calls depict Obama leaning on his desk, with his feet on the floor.”
Trump and Netanyahu’s friendship is a major shift from the chilly relations between the Israeli prime minister and Obama – who was even accused of helping to fund opposition to oust Netanyahu during his re-election bid in 2015.
The relationship was further strained during the Obama administration’s decision to move forward with the Iran nuclear deal. Netanyahu and Obama also were at odds towards the end of the Obama administration—when the U.S. allowed for the passage of a resolution condemning Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.
On Monday, Trump noted his intent to attend the opening of the embassy at the newly-recognized capital in mid-May. “Israel is very special to me—special country, special people, and I look forward to being there.”
“What better to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump said, noting the embassy move gives “a real opportunity for peace.” “We’ll see how it works out. The Palestinians are wanting to come back to the table. Very badly.”
Trump added: “If they don’t, you don’t have peace. And that’s a possibility also.”
Netanyahu praised Trump's “leadership and friendship,” noting that “under your leadership, [U.S.-Israeli relations] have never been stronger.”
Neither addressed the swirling corruption scandal engulfing Netanyahu's administration, or the ongoing Russia probe that has hindered Trump's time in the White House.
“President Trump underscored his goal of countering Iran's malign influence. The President also emphasized his commitment to achieving a lasting peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians,” the White House said.