“I wanted you to know how much we appreciate the American change in policy on Iran,” Netanyahu said as the two leaders delivered joint statements at the prime minister’s residence here, but took no questions from reporters.
“We can hold back Iran’s march in this region and thwart Iran’s unbridled ambition,” Netanyahu added. “I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” the president told Reuters before meeting with Abbas earlier this month at the White House. “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever.”
White House aides have played down expectations for significant progress on the peace process during Trump’s stop, casting it as more symbolic than substantive.
The last round of peace talks, led by then-President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, fell apart in 2014. While en route to Tel Aviv, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson previewed the stop as a continuation of the president’s push for unity in the fight against terrorism, as well as an opening step in the quest for peace.
“I think he feels like there’s a moment in time here,” Tillerson said, referring to Trump. “We have the opportunity to advance the peace discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinians … I think the president has indicated he’s willing to put his own personal efforts into this if the Israelis and the Palestinians are ready to be serious about engaging as well.”
In his welcoming remarks to Trump after Air Force One landed, Netanyahu said, “Israel’s hand is extended in peace to all of our neighbors, including the Palestinians.”
“We do not have a greater friend than Donald Trump,” Netanyahu told reporters after a meeting with the president t the White House in February.
However, from compromising Israeli intelligence to backtracking on a promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to a diplomatic scuffle over the Western Wall, Israel’s once-clear support of the Trump administration is less certain.
Israel has also expressed concern about the $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia that Trump announced Saturday in Riyadh. Yuval Steinitz, a senior Cabinet minister and Netanyahu confidant, called Saudi Arabia “a hostile country” and said the deal was “definitely something that should trouble us.”
Palestinian activists are calling for a “Day of Rage” when Trump visits the West Bank on Tuesday. The demonstrations are meant to draw attention to a month-long hunger strike by hundreds of prisoners being held by Israel, and to protest what many Palestinians say is unfair U.S. support for Israel. Trump’s first foreign trip began in Saudi Arabia and takes him, after Israel, to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francis, then on to Brussels for a NATO summit and finally to Sicily for a meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven major industrial nations.
Monday’s flight — direct from Riyadh to Tel Aviv — was in itself historic. It marks the first time Air Force One was able to fly directly between the two nations, which do not have diplomatic relations.
Netanyahu said he hoped “that one day an Israeli prime minister will be able to fly from Tel Aviv to Riyadh.” (NBC NEWS)