Mideast issues mount as Netanyahu tees up Trump meeting

By Karen Deyoung

The Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim looms over Arab Bedouin shacks in the West Bank. Photo / AP
The Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim looms over Arab Bedouin shacks in the West Bank. Photo / AP

US President Donald Trump spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a brief conversation that Trump described as "very nice," and Netanyahu called "very warm".

Netanyahu, in a statement issued by his office, said Trump had invited him to visit the White House in February, although a final date was not yet set.

They discussed the Iran nuclear deal, the "peace process with the Palestinians," and other issues," the Israeli leader said, adding that he had "expressed his desire to work closely . . . with no daylight between the United States and Israel".

A statement issued by the White House said Trump and Netanyahu discussed ways to advance and strengthen the US-Israel "special relationship" as well as and security and stability in the Middle East.

Earlier today, Netanyahu tweeted that "Stopping the Iranian threat, and the threat reflected in the bad nuclear agreement with Iran, continues to be a supreme goal of Israel."

Netanyahu also met his security cabinet, telling them that he would allow continued construction of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, according to Israeli media accounts.

Those settlements are considered illegal by most of the world. The Obama Administration called them "illegitimate" and "obstacles to peace." Israel disputed this.

Jerusalem's construction committee approved 566 housing units in East Jerusalem settlements.

Netanyahu successfully delayed the introduction of a controversial settlement bill in Parliament that would annex the West Bank's Maale Adumim settlement outside Jerusalem. The security cabinet agreed to wait until Netanyahu meets Trump to co-ordinate policy before considering the bill, local media reported.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said that Trump was a "true friend" to Israel, referring to a reported statement by Trump press secretary Sean Spicer that the Administration was at the "very beginning stages" of discussing a move of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"We will offer them all the assistance necessary," Barkat said in a statement. "The US has sent a message to the world that it recognises Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel."

No country in the world has its Israel embassy in Jerusalem, which is also claimed by the Palestinians as their capital. While Congress long ago passed a resolution ordering the move, both Republican and Democratic presidents have repeatedly waived the order on national security grounds.

Trump pledged during his campaign to move the embassy, and his designated ambassador to Israel, New York bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, has called the move a "big priority" for the new administration.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met Jordanian King Abdullah II today to discuss what to do if Trump makes good on the promised move. Jordan plays an important role in Jerusalem as a caretaker of the holy Muslim sites in the eastern side of the city.

Abbas said after his meeting with the King, "We wish two things of the new American Administration: First, to stop talks about moving the US embassy to Jerusalem; and second, to get involved in conducting serious negotiations between Palestine and Israel to reach a political solution which is for the best interest of Palestinians, Israelis and the whole region."

In his confirmation hearing, secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson called Israel "our most important ally in the region," and criticised former president Barack Obama for undermining Israeli security, but did not directly address the embassy question.

- additional reporting AAP

- Washington Post

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 26 Mar 2017 14:33:33 Processing Time: 756ms