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Washington Wrap: The Washington-Israel Nexus

Omri Nahmias

Rocked by instability and scandal, Bibi and Trump reaffirm their bond

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

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I t seemed that everything converged in Washington this week: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited the White House to meet with his friend and ally President Trump; peace negotiator and top aide to the president Jared Kushner had his security clearance downgraded, perhaps presaging an early exit from the West Wing; and seemingly half of the Knesset was in Washington to attend the AIPAC conference while the talk at home focused on early elections.

Binyamin Netanyahu also came to AIPAC, where he is regularly treated as a star. But his conversation with Trump in the Oval Office took on a more serious tone. Israel is increasingly concerned about Iran’s presence in Syria, and about America’s reluctance to take decisive action to stop Tehran’s entrenchment. The stakes have only grown larger after a full-scale Israeli attack on Syrian positions in February.

It bears noting that Netanyahu was given the red-carpet treatment at the White House, and, like his visit in February 2017, Bibi stayed at Blair House, the official White House guest residence. Former president Obama had once barred Bibi from staying there over a perceived slight.

At the White House press briefing, the genuine warmth between the leaders was unmistakable. It looks as if they understand each other, and for good reason — they’re both going through similar challenges, whether it’s police investigations, wrangling with a hostile press, or dealing with the same leaders in the Arab world.

For Trump, the visit is a welcome respite from the chaos in his administration, where there are rumors of yet another staff reshuffle. For Netanyahu, all the more so. A trip to Washington, to his biggest “fans” — AIPAC and Trump — is a chance for him to take a temporary break from the corruption probes, as well as from his coalition woes. When I asked senior members in the Prime Minister’s Office about how he’s managing his busy schedule with all the investigations around him, they dismissed the concern.

“This meeting is important to the prime minister,” one source said. “He’s determined to continue advancing security and peace.”

There’s no doubt that the timing of the visit, just prior to the unveiling of the president’s peace proposal, is critical. It’s unclear what was said behind closed doors, but what’s certain is that Netanyahu is working to ensure that the plan doesn’t overcompensate the Palestinians for Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem.

Whether the current coalition crisis surrounding the draft law is settled, or if Israel actually goes to the polls, there’s no doubt that this has been Netanyahu’s best week in months. Summer elections, coming on the heels of a successful visit to Washington and a possible visit by Trump to inaugurate the new embassy, will only reinforce Bibi’s successes as a statesman. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 701)

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