WASHINGTON – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touted a close and growing relationship with the new Trump administration during a speech Monday to a major pro-Israel lobby group, but skipped over thornier issues like settlement construction and a path forward for peace with Palestinians.
Netanyahu, appearing by video at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual conference, said he'd had an "exceptionally warm" meeting with President Donald Trump last month. He said he was confident the alliance would grow "even stronger" and was looking forward to welcoming new U.S. Ambassador David Friedman to Israel "and especially to Jerusalem" -- a nod to Israeli hopes that Trump's administration will be the one to finally move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
"I'm confident that the U.S. and Israel will stand together shoulder to shoulder to ensure that light trumps over darkness and hope trumps over despair," Netanyahu said from his office in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu did not mention his government's thus-far-unsuccessful efforts to reach an understanding with the White House about settlement-building in Palestinian territories, following Trump's statement that he'd like to see Israel pull back. A visit by an Israeli delegation to the White House last week ended without a deal on settlements, and Netanyahu has said elsewhere that the talks are continuing.
Nor did Netanyahu offer anything in the way of specifics about how the stalled peace process might be advanced. Though he spoke in general terms about regional peace, the prime minister did not restate his belief in a two-state solution for Israel to exist alongside an independent Palestinian state.
"Israel's hand, and my hand, is extended to all our neighbors in peace," Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu's support for a two-state solution has been questioned in recent years, and Trump moved the U.S. away from its longstanding insistence on the two-state solution when he said at the time of Netanyahu's visit that he could accept a one-state solution. His administration has since emphasized that Trump supports whatever solution both Israelis and Palestinians support and can agree to.
Netanyahu did praise Trump for preserving in his budget proposal $3.1 billion in annual aid to Israel. That aid was committed by former President Barack Obama under a 10-year memorandum of understanding with Israel, and survived other dramatic cuts to foreign aid and other international programs that Trump has proposed.