Wed, Mar 07, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Trump hints at Israel trip for embassy move

AFP, WASHINGTON

US President Donald Trump, in back, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday head to the Oval Office at the White House in Washington.

Photo: AFP

US President Donald Trump on Monday floated a fraught trip to open the new US embassy in Jerusalem, as he hosted Israel’s equally embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.

The two leaders — both under career-threatening legal investigations — tried to cast their domestic problems aside, putting on a show of bonhomie and mutual appreciation in sunny Washington.

In the Oval Office, Netanyahu waxed lyrical, painting Trump as the heir to a pantheon of historical figures, and hailed the president’s “bold” decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Netanyahu likened the US leader to the ancient Persian king Cyrus the Great, who freed the Jews from captivity in Babylon; to Britain’s Lord Balfour, who a century ago affirmed the rights of the Jewish people in Palestine; and former US president Harry Truman, who recognized the Jewish state.

“I want to thank you for your extraordinary friendship,” he said.

The 71-year-old president responded with some lyrical waxing of his own, saying he would consider a trip to open the controversial embassy in May, when Israel celebrates 70 years since its declaration of independence.

“We’re looking at coming. If I can, I will,” Trump said. “I may. We will be talking about that and other things.”

“Israel is very special to me. Special country, special people, and I look forward to being there, and I’m very proud of that decision,” he added.

The trip would be political catnip for Trump and Netanyahu, appealing to supporters who see good US-Israel ties as a strategic and even religious imperative.

However, the trip would also be a major security and diplomatic challenge, one that risks further infuriating Arab allies and scuttling US claims to be an independent broker for peace.

The embassy move prompted deadly protests and 128 states condemned it in a UN General Assembly vote in December last year. Only seven smaller countries aligned themselves with the US and Israel.

Despite Trump and Netanyahu’s warmth, their domestic problems were never far away from the surface.

Hours before Netanyahu arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it was confirmed that an ex-aide agreed to become a state witness in a corruption probe that has imperiled his prime ministership.

He has embraced the Trumpian tactic of denouncing corruption allegations as “fake news,” the same term Trump has used to describe his campaign team’s alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 US elections.

Several of Trump’s campaign aides are already facing charges or have pled guilty to lying to FBI investigators.

“I think they are partners in ideology, and the ideology is a populist, conservative ideology which says that the old liberal elites are against us,” said Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

Netanyahu was scheduled to make an appearance yesterday at the annual conference of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee group, and was expected to focus mainly on Iran as Israel’s greatest enemy, and one he says seeks a permanent military presence in Syria.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikky Haley received sustained applause on Monday when she appeared at the conference and said she would attend the embassy inauguration.

US Vice President Mike Pence told the conference that Washington has vowed to pull out of the nuclear deal if European countries cannot come up with an accord to make it tougher.

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