WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised President Donald Trump on Monday for keeping his campaign promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“Others talked about it,” Netanyahu said. “You did it.”
With an eye toward Trump’s grandiose side, Netanyahu put Trump in line with great men in Jewish history — from Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who predicted Jews would return to Jerusalem, to Lord Arthur Balfour, whose declaration spurred “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” and former U.S. President Harry Truman, the first world leader to recognize Israel.
Asked if he planned to be in Jerusalem in May for the opening of the new embassy, Trump responded, “If I can, I will.”
Last month the State Department announced plans to open the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem in May to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary. The embassy will be in a complex already occupied by the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood while U.S. officials search for a permanent site. Trump announced the decision in December.
Trump and Netanyahu made their remarks in the Oval Office, where they sat flanked by their wives. Trump noted that the couples had been friends “for a long time,” and Netanyahu proved it by referring to the president once as “Donald.”
Trump did not refer to Netanyahu by his nickname “Bibi” during their brief remarks before the press pool.
When Trump announced his Jerusalem decision, he argued that, contrary to conventional thinking, the move would make “the ultimate deal” — a peace plan between Palestinians and Israelis — more likely by taking an issue on which Israel would not budge off the table.
Trump reiterated that argument Monday and added, “So this gives us a real opportunity to (achieve) peace. We’ll see how it works out. The Palestinians, I think, are wanting to come back to the table very badly.”
Trump added, “If they don’t, you don’t have peace, and that’s a possibility also.”
Trump and Netanyahu also discussed Iran, with the Israeli prime minister declaring, “Iran must be stopped.”
Both leaders want to curb Iran’s military presence in Syria and terminate the Iran nuclear deal supported by President Barack Obama and European leaders.
Later Monday, Vice President Mike Pence resumed his role as Trump proxy on Israel when he repeated that sentiment. He told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, “We will not allow the defeat of ISIS to become a victory for Iran.”
In January, Pence visited Israel on a three-country trip that included Egypt and Jordan. He became the first U.S. vice president to address the Knesset, and his drama-filled speech evoked a standing ovation from most members but jeers from members of the Joint List of Arab-dominated parties after Pence promised the new embassy would open before the end of 2019.
The following day, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin told the vice president, “You are a mensch,” a Yiddish term for an upright man.
On Sunday in Washington, Netanyahu met with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales in the Blair House, where the Israeli leader is staying, to thank him for announcing his country’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem after Trump’s announcement.
Both Trump and Netanyahu have been the subjects of law enforcement probes.
The day before Israel’s first couple left for Washington, police questioned both Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, in connection with a burgeoning corruption case. On Monday, a top Netanyahu aide signed a plea agreement in which he agreed to testify against the prime minister. Netanyahu has called the story a “media witch hunt.”
Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating possible Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which Trump has repeatedly labeled as “fake news.”
Contact Debra J. Saunders at email@example.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.
Dec. 6: President Donald Trump recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announces his intent to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Jan. 22: Vice President Mike Pence tells Israel’s Knesset that the new embassy would open before the end of 2019.
Feb. 23: State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert issues a statement that begins, “In May, the United States plans to open a new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.”