Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has had a strained relationship with President Obama, but he’s putting in time today to get off on the right foot with whoever succeeds the president.
Netanyahu met privately with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for more than an hour at Trump Tower in New York on Sunday morning. Netanyahu is also supposed to meet later in the day with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The Trump campaign released a summary of the meeting, which said in part, “Mr. Trump and the Prime Minister discussed the special relationship between America and Israel and the unbreakable bond between the two countries. The topics of military assistance, security and regional stability were addressed.”
According to the campaign statement, Trump promises to recognize Jerusalem as “the undivided capital of the State of Israel,” as he has for months now. This would be a reversal of U.S. policy since the founding of Israel in 1948. The status of Jerusalem is a highly contentious issue between Israelis and Palestinians. The U.S. has its embassy in Tel Aviv, and officially does not recognize Jerusalem as a part of any country. Congress has passed laws trying to reverse that stance, but the Supreme Court affirmed the supremacy of the executive branch in the matter in 2015.
Trump hesitated on that question when he was first asked about it back in December while speaking before the Republican Jewish Coalition, where the audience booed. Trump was also criticized for invoking Jewish stereotypes in that appearance.
At the time, Trump had said he would wait to answer until he met with Netanyahu. A planned trip to Israel to meet the prime minister at the end of 2015 was cancelled after Netanyahu condemned Trump’s call for a temporary ban on the immigration of Muslims to the United States.
Netanyahu’s office tweeted out a photo of the two men, which was also released by the Trump campaign, and put out a brief statement on the meeting, stating that it was also attended by Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is Jewish.
The statement said, “Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked Mr. Trump for his friendship and support for Israel.”
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz first reported that Netanyahu was meeting with Trump and Clinton. It says that the meeting with Trump came together on Friday after calls between Trump aides and Netanyahu’s advisers. The paper reported that Netanyahu insisted on also meeting with Clinton, as to not be seen as taking sides.
Netanyahu was seen as taking sides in 2012, as he warmly received Republican nominee Mitt Romney — who he had worked with decades before — while maintaining a chilly relationship with President Obama, who has long been critical of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which Netanyahu defends. Their relationship soured further as the U.S. pursued negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.
The Israeli prime minister has a long professional relationship with Hillary Clinton, which the Washington Post documented as “sometimes fraught” in 2015. Clinton wrote of being the “bad cop” with Netanyahu while serving as Secretary of State.
Netanyahu’s meeting with Clinton is expected Sunday evening. Haaretz cites aides to the prime minister who say that Netanyahu chose to go to the candidates instead of inviting them to come to him given the constraints on their schedule in preparing for the first presidential debate on Monday night.
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