Netanyahu chief of staff heads to US to sort out settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz left for Washington on Sunday to discuss settlement building with the Trump administration.

He will join Ron Dermer, Israel’s Washington ambassador, to continue discussions with US special envoy Jason Greenblatt in an attempt to reach an understanding between Israel and US President Donald Trump’s administration about building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu left Israel on Saturday night for a three day trip to China, and the fact that Horowitz did not accompany the prime minister but went instead to Washington highlights the importance of the negotiations with the US.

Greenblatt visited Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan last week to gain a deeper understanding of the situation. Despite two meetings with Netanyahu during the course of the visit, no agreement was reached on settlement construction.

Netanyahu and Greenblatt made “progress on the issue of Israeli settlement construction following up on President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement in Washington last month to work out an approach that reflects both leaders’ views,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office issued after the second three-hour meeting Thursday night.

“Those discussions are continuing between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office,” it said.

Netanyahu and the Trump White House have been trying to reach an understanding on Israeli settlement activity since last month’s meeting between the Israeli leader and the US president, who in a joint press conference told Netanyahu that he wanted him to “hold back” on the settlements.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

Netanyahu has been trying to get the White House’s approval for the construction of a new settlement — the first in some 25 years — to replace the illegal outpost of Amona, which was evacuated and demolished last month.

Last month, he indicated to members of his security cabinet that the government may have to back off the pledge, drawing vociferous protests from the settlers and their allies in the coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump's special representative for international negotiations, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

The Israeli prime minister has also been actively trying to avoid friction on other fronts related to settlements, pushing to postpone a Knesset committee vote next week on a bill that calls to annex the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

On Thursday, Greenblatt sat down for an unprecedented session with a delegation from the settler umbrella group the Yesha Council, led by Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi and Shomron Regional Council head Yossi Dagan — a meeting that according to Channel 2 was coordinated with Netanyahu.

Ahead of Greenblatt’s trip to Israel, Dagan told Likud ministers that a Netanyahu agreement to rein in settlement construction, or to a partial freeze of settlements, would lead to political crisis, Channel 2 reported, adding that the settler movement has argued that the freeze imposed by the administration of former president Barack Obama constituted “a breach of their human rights.”

A statement from the Yesha Council following the meeting with Greenblatt described it as “fruitful and positive,” and added that the council “looks forward to continuing this important dialogue.”

Channel 10 reported that officials who have met with Greenblatt over the past several days came away with a sense that the administration is determined to make progress on a regional peace accord, with talk of convening a possible regional conference in the coming months, and that White House efforts to get Israel to rein in settlements would come into play then.

Netanyahu said earlier Thursday that Israel was “in the middle of a process of dialogue with the White House and it is our intention to get to an agreed-upon policy on construction in the settlements.”

He noted that it was preferable to reach such understandings quickly rather than engaging in drawn-out negotiations.

Many on the Israeli right had anticipated that Trump would be more supportive of the settlement enterprise than his predecessor Barack Obama. However, last month, at a joint White House press conference with Netanyahu, Trump asked the prime minister to “hold back on settlements a little bit.” He also said in a newspaper interview that Israeli settlements “don’t help” in negotiating a peace agreement.

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ESTONIAN FM: SETTLEMENT ISSUE DELAYS EU MEETING ON ISRAEL

 

http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Estonian-FM-Settlement-issue-delays-EU-meeting-on-Israel-483654

 

Israeli settlement activity is one of the reasons the European Union has not yet set a date with Israel to convene the EU-Israel Association Council, Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

Further discussions need to be held on the issue of settlement activity before a date can be set, Mikser said after arriving late Tuesday night.

 

He represents a country that is seen as a strong friend of Israel at the United Nations, but which stands with the European Union in its zero-tolerance policy for settlement activity.

Disagreements between Israel and the EU on settlements has prevented a long-anticipated upgrade to their already strong bilateral ties.

An important step to that upgrade is the convening of the EU-Israel Association Council, which has not meet since July 2012.

Sven Mikser. Credit: Marc Israel SellemSven Mikser. Credit: Marc Israel Sellem

It had been expected that a date for that meeting would be set on Monday when the EU council of foreign ministers met in Brussels, but nothing was finalized then. After the meeting, EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini said, “We are proceeding with the preparation for the Association Council with Israel, as decided in the previous Foreign Affairs Council in February.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said that Israel expects a date to be set soon.

Mikser, however, indicated that friction still exists on the issue of settlement activity.

“There were hopes that it would be possible to hold an Association Council [meeting with Israel]. It was in discussion earlier this year, but now in significant part, because of the ongoing settlement activity and the frustration [over this] in several European capitals, there was no decision taken in that regard,” Mikser said.

“We consider ourselves a friend of Israel and unconditionally recognize Israel’s right to exist, to defend itself and to take care of its security needs,” Mikser said regarding his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Estonia does not think the solution can be brought about by unilateral activity,” Mikser said, explaining that it is for this reason it has opposed both settlement activity and declarations of Palestinian statehood.

The two-day visit is Mikser’s first trip to Israel since becoming foreign minister last year, but he has traveled here, both as a parliamentarian and as a tourist. On Wednesday he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and on Thursday he will travel to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian officials, including Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

In 2012, Estonia abstained during the UN General Assembly vote that granted the Palestinians the status of non-member observer state. It was also one of six countries that voted against the resolution by UNESCO’s executive board that denied Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu and UK’s Boris Johnson spar over settlements

Visiting British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu butted heads publicly on Wednesday over whether Israeli settlements hinder the peace process.

Speaking before Government Press Office cameras ahead of their meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Netanyahu welcomed Johnson and said he looked forward to visiting London later this year to celebrate the centennial of the Balfour Declaration, which laid key diplomatic groundwork for Jewish statehood.

Johnson recalled the time in his youth when he worked in a kibbutz and joked about his “not-very-substantial contribution to the Israeli economy back then.” On a serious note, he went on to say that Prime Minister Theresa May and the rest of the UK government are “rock-like supporters of Israel.”

“What we want to see is an Israel that is at peace with its neighbors,” said Johnson, who had just come from meetings with Palestinian officials in Ramallah. “I should remind you that the policy of my government is for a two-state solution, which is what we want to achieve and help to bring about in a modest and humble way. And obviously we want to help remove the obstacles to that.”

He then briefly changed the topic, stating that Israel has “an absolute right to live in security, and the people of Israel deserve to be safe from terrorism. That’s our absolute priority.”

Jerusalem and London cooperate in various areas to “ensure the stability of the entire region,” Johnson said, only to return to the thorny issue of settlements. “And of course we must also try to remove obstacles to peace and progress, such as the settlements, which you and I have discussed before.”

The foreign secretary then addressed plans between Israel and the UK to negotiate a new free trade agreement, following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union last year. He hailed growing bilateral commercial ties: “We have the fastest growing Aston Martin dealership anywhere in the world here in Israel. We’ve done some fantastic export deals with you. But you’ve also greatly contributed to our economy.”

Netanyahu spoke up again, saying that he and Johnson evidently agree “on most things but not on all things.” The reason peace has been elusive for 100 years is not the settlements, he insisted. “It’s the persistent refusal to recognize a nation state for the Jewish people in any boundaries. If you want to solve a problem, go to the core of the problem.”

Posting a photo with Netanyahu from the encounter later on his Twitter account, Johnson called his conversation “friendly & frank.” He also related that the discussion focused on the two-state solution, trade and “concern over illegal settlements.”

Friendly & frank talks w/ PM @netanyahu in . Discussed Two States solution, trade & concern over illegal settlements

Earlier on Wednesday, Johnson had toured settlements with the leftist group Peace Now.

Here is UK Foreign Secretary @BorisJohnson checking out what he calls “illegal settlements” in the West Bank with leftist Peace Now group https://twitter.com/PeaceNowIL/status/839494791859666946 

He also traveled to Ramallah for meetings with the Palestinian leadership.

“The policy of our government in the UK is absolutely unchanged,” Johnson told reporters in Ramallah, standing next to Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki on a podium near a “State of Palestine” seal.

“We remain committed to a two-state solution, to that vision, for the resolution of this conflict. You know, I really think it is possible,” he said.

Johnson criticized Israeli settlement building in his comments in Ramallah, but also spoke out against Palestinian violence.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 8, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on March 8, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

“There is of course the need for the Israeli people to feel that they can live in security without the fear of terrorism and violence,” he said.

During an interview with Israel’s Channel 10, he indicated that the US administration was concerned by Israel’s recent expansions of West Bank settlements.

“So I think the very clear message that I got from the press conference between Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and President Trump [on February 15] is that I think there is anxiety in the White House, as there has been for a long time, about the pace of settlements and illegal settlements on the West Bank.”

The UK has “not deviated from our traditional view that a two-state solution is the way ahead,” he said. “We really want to encourage that. And we do think that settlements are illegal and get in the way of it.”

Netanyahu: Still no agreement on settlements with Trump

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told MKs from his ruling Likud party on Monday that he still has not reached an agreement with US President Donald Trump regarding the construction of new homes in West Bank settlements.

Netanyahu said that although he is working with the White House to establish a “mechanism” for coordinating settlement construction, “things are not as simple as you think they are,” unnamed participants in the Likud faction meeting told the Haaretz daily.

Trump’s presidency “is a historic opportunity, but [we] need to know the limits of this opportunity,” Haaretz quoted Netanyahu as saying.

Netanyahu’s comments were reportedly made during a heated argument between Likud lawmakers who support annexing large swaths of the West Bank and those in favor of separating from the Palestinians while still maintaining security control over the area.

Although Netanyahu has expressed support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, he has refrained from voicing support for a two-state solution of late, as MKs from both Likud and the right-wing Jewish Home party — upon whose support Netanyahu’s coalition depends — have called on him to renounce the two-state solution.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. AFP/ SAUL LOEB)

However, during his visit to Washington Netanyahu said “I don’t want to annex close to 2.5 millions Palestinians to Israel I do not want them to be our subjects,” while also telling Australian Foreign Minister last week while in Australia that Israel will never relinquish security control over the West Bank.

While many on the right celebrated Trump’s election as an opportunity to move ahead with large scale construction in West Bank settlements, the US president told Netanyahu during a joint press conference at the White House that “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”

Just days before the prime minister’s visit, Trump also told the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily that “I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace,” as “every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left.”

Immediately following the prime minister’s visit to Washington, a senior Israeli official said that although the two sides have yet to reach an agreement on new settlement construction, they will work to establish a “mechanism” for discussing the issue upon Netanyahu’s arrival in Israel following his trip to Singapore and Australia, from which he returned on Sunday.

Liberman: Israel would be crazy to defy Trump on settlements

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned Monday that it would be a grave mistake for Israel to go up against the new Trump administration in Washington on settlements.

“For eight years, there was tension and friction with the Obama administration. If we now start to fight with the Trump administration… and the Republican-majority Congress, people will really start to think that the leadership in the State of Israel is a bunch of nutcases,” he told Israel Radio.

His comments came in reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly walking back his promise to build a new settlement for the former residents of the Amona outpost, which was evacuated last month.

Netanyahu told members of his security cabinet on Sunday that the state may have to renege on the pledge in light of US President Donald Trump’s request, during a joint press conference he held with the prime minister in Washington last week, that Israel “hold back” on settlement construction.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman shakes hands with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the Munich Security Conference on February 17, 2017. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

While the defense minister denied that Israel, as a sovereign country, requires a “green light” from the US government in order to move forward with settlement construction, he stressed the importance of avoiding a crisis with the Trump administration over the matter.

“Let’s try and talk and reach an agreement. Not every issue needs to be immediately turned into a crisis,” he said. “The most important thing is to reach understandings with the US on all issues.”

A “mechanism” for discussing settlements with the US “will be set up when the prime minister returns from the Far East,” an Israeli official said Sunday night.

Netanyahu is currently on a state visit to Singapore and Australia.

Liberman cited Trump’s new special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, as well as Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, as two allies of the settlement movement who have been working closely with the White House to help reach a consensus on the matter.

Netanyahu made similar comments regarding the importance of avoiding spats with the new US president in a closed-door cabinet meeting on February 12, where he warned his ministers that they “mustn’t get into confrontation with Trump.” He reportedly added that the president’s ego needs to be taken “into account.”

Earlier in the interview, Liberman rejected Trump’s implication during his press conference with Netanyahu that a single state would be a viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should the two sides agree to it.

“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said.

Liberman said that Israel cannot annex the Palestinians living in the West Bank if it wants to remain a Jewish state.

He went on to invoke his long-held two-state plan under which some Israeli Arab towns would become part of a future Palestinian state.

“We need to separate from the Palestinians in the West Bank, but also from the ones within the 1967 borders,” Liberman said. In a TV interview last week, Liberman said all the “Palestinians” in Israel should go live under the rule of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Netanyahu, Pence discuss mechanism for coordination on settlements

WASHINGTON — A day after US President Donald Trump told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit,” Netanyahu met with US Vice President Mike Pence to discuss the establishment of a mechanism on the issue.

Netanyahu and Pence also agreed to “work together in a systematic manner” to change the United Nations’ treatment of Israel, a member of Netanyahu’s delegation to Washington said after the meeting.

It was possible that Washington would demand drastic changes in the UN’s approach to the Jewish state, including the threat to withhold US funding, the official said.

Netanyahu also discussed with Pence his concerns over Jonathan Pollard, a former American spy who served nearly 20 years in prison on charges of spying in Israel before being released in 2015, but is prevented from moving to Israel. Pollard’s imprisonment had been a longtime point of tension in Israeli-US relations and Israeli leaders petitioned their US counterparts for years in order to secure’s Pollard’s release. Pence reportedly agreed to consider the issue, and it was agreed that the Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer would personally take on this portfolio.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat meets Jonathan Pollard in New York, September 26, 2016 (Jerusalem Municipality)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat meets Jonathan Pollard in New York, September 26, 2016 (Jerusalem Municipality)

The prime minister also reiterated his request that the US recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, something he put to Trump during their Oval Office meeting on Wednesday. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and extended sovereignty over the area in 1981. No other countries recognize Israel sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

“We [will] formulate as soon as possible the creation of a mechanism to discuss with the White House construction in the settlements, with the intention of reaching an understanding on this matter,” a member of Netanyahu’s delegation to Washington said after Thursday’s meeting.

Netanyahu had responded to Trump’s request to rein in settlement activity on Wednesday by promising that Israel and the US would try to coordinate their positions on settlement construction in the West Bank, “so that we don’t bump into each other on this every time.”

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017, where both leaders refused to commit to the two-state model as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017, where both leaders refused to commit to the two-state model as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

After Netanyahu and Trump met in the Oval Office following the press conference, the White House said the two “discussed the issue of Israeli settlement construction,” and “agreed to continue those discussions and to work out an approach that is consistent with the goal of advancing peace and security.”

In a briefing session with Israeli and international reporters after the meeting, Netanyahu confirmed the Trump administration and Israel “want to reach agreement [on settlements]. We discussed it and will continue to discuss it in order to get to an agreement.”

Netanyahu also said that recently announced plans for some 6,000 housing units in various settlements across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem would still go ahead. However, he was hesitant to talk about the establishment of a new settlement, which he promised the settler community as compensation for Amona, an illegal outpost that was evacuated last month due to a court order that determined it was built on private Palestinian land. And he indicated that he would at least consider Trump’s request that he rein in settlements.

Plans for a new settlement were “still being negotiated,” Netanyahu said, but “if there’s a request to examine this issue from so friendly a president, I think it’s appropriate to make the effort.” He added: “In Jerusalem, we’ll continue to build, and everything we’ve already announced will be built. But, on the rest, we need to discuss [it] and reach an agreement,” Netanyahu said, adding that while the US and Israel see “eye to eye on the rest of the issues, we must examine any request on this issue because it is in our interest.”

Later, however, his office issued a short statement asserting that “there are inaccurate headlines [appearing on this issue]. The prime minister did not say that he was prepared to discuss reining in construction.”

During Wednesday’s press conference, Trump rejected what he called the “very very unfair” treatment of Israel at the UN.

Trump has previously stated that he may seek to make significant changes at the UN in response to the world body’s tense relationship with Israel, writing on Twitter “as to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th” following a December UN Security Council Resolution that labelled Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as having “no legal validity.”

Netanyahu: Settlements ‘an issue, not the issue’ in conflict

Hailing a “very, very warm” meeting with US President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said the settlements were “an issue” but not “the issue” hindering peace with the Palestinians.

The remark came a day after Trump told Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” during a joint press conference in the White House. The prime minister on Thursday met with US Vice President Mike Pence to discuss the establishment of a mechanism to coordinate on the issue.

“I think it’s an issue, but I don’t think it’s the issue,” Netanyahu told MSNBC’s “For the Record” on Thursday, regarding the settlements. “Because the real core of this conflict between us and the Palestinians is not this or that settlement, or this or that community, it’s the persistent and enduring refusal to recognize a Jewish state in any boundary.”

The prime minister said the settlement issue has “been ingrained in the public mind” as the central obstacle to peace.

“Mind you this is an issue we agreed to discuss. We’ve set up a mechanism to discuss a way to reach an understanding,” he added, referring to the Israeli and US governments.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017, where both leaders refused to commit to the two-state model as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017, where both leaders refused to commit to the two-state model as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

In the interview, Netanyahu declined to compare Trump to former US president Barack Obama.

“I’m not going to start rating presidents. I will tell you though that I had a very, very warm meeting with President Trump. There was a great sense of kinship and friendship and I think that this is something the people of America feel toward the people of Israel. And, I assure you, the people of Israel feel deeply about the people of America,” he said.

The prime minister also did not explicitly endorse the two-state solution or a binational state. “I’ve always said that the labels are not important, the substance is important,” he remarked.

Netanyahu had responded to Trump’s request to rein in settlement activity on Wednesday by promising that Israel and the US would try to coordinate their positions on settlement construction in the West Bank, “so that we don’t bump into each other on this every time.”

After Netanyahu and Trump talked in the Oval Office following their press conference, the White House said the two “discussed the issue of Israeli settlement construction,” and “agreed to continue those discussions and to work out an approach that is consistent with the goal of advancing peace and security.”

In a briefing session with Israeli and international reporters after the meeting, Netanyahu confirmed the Trump administration and Israel “want to reach agreement [on settlements]. We discussed it and will continue to discuss it in order to get to an agreement.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets US Vice President Mike Pence in Washington DC, February 16, 2017, (Avi Ohayun/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets US Vice President Mike Pence in Washington DC, February 16, 2017, (Avi Ohayun/GPO)

Netanyahu also said that recently announced plans for some 6,000 housing units in various settlements across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem would still go ahead. However, he was hesitant to talk about the establishment of a new settlement, which he promised the settler community as compensation for Amona, an illegal outpost that was evacuated last month due to a court order that determined it was built on private Palestinian land. And he indicated that he would at least consider Trump’s request that he rein in settlements.

Plans for a new settlement were “still being negotiated,” Netanyahu said, but “if there’s a request to examine this issue from so friendly a president, I think it’s appropriate to make the effort.” He added: “In Jerusalem, we’ll continue to build, and everything we’ve already announced will be built. But, on the rest, we need to discuss [it] and reach an agreement,” Netanyahu said, adding that while the US and Israel see “eye to eye on the rest of the issues, we must examine any request on this issue because it is in our interest.”

Later, however, his office issued a short statement asserting that “there are inaccurate headlines [appearing on this issue]. The prime minister did not say that he was prepared to discuss reining in construction.”

TRUMP TELLS NETANYAHU TO ‘HOLD BACK ON SETTLEMENTS’ DURING FIRST MEET

WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump said he would support either a one-state or a two-state resolution when he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House and pledged to make a deal to end the Israel- Palestinian conflict.

“I’m looking at two states and one state. I am very happy with the one that both parties like. I thought for a while the two state might be easier to do, but honestly, if Bibi and the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, then I am happy with the one they like the best,” Trump said.

 

He is the first US president in at least two decades to refrain from pledging allegiance to the idea of a two-state paradigm and to open the door to the possibility of alternative ideas to achieve peace between Israeli and Palestinians, as well as in the wider region.

Netanyahu, in turn, alluded to his continued support for a two-state resolution to the conflict, noting that his opinion on the matter had not changed in the eight years since he first spoke of two states for two peoples.
Netanyahu and Trump meet for first time in Washington at joint White House press conference on Feb. 15, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)

The two men spoke in advance of a meeting that lasted for several hours in which they discussed their policy positions on major issues in the region: Iran, Syria, ISIS and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was their first face-to-face conversation since Trump’s inauguration, and was different in tone and tenor from the contentious meetings Netanyahu had held with Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

The affection between the two men was clear from their smiles and warm handshakes.

The two leaders, whose relationship reaches back to the 1980s, both spoke of each other in admiring tones.

Trump explained that their strong ties gave him an advantage other US presidents had lacked when it came to tackling the thorny issues with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Bibi and I have known each other a long time,” said Trump, adding that Netanyahu was “smart and a great negotiator.”

As a result, “I think we are going to make a deal,” he said.

Trump said such a deal was personally important to him, and that he planned to work “very, very diligently” toward an agreement.

There were a few points of tension at the press conference, with Trump asking Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements,” and saying that Israel would have to take steps for peace.

“Both sides will have to make compromises – you know that, right?” Trump asked Netanyahu, who then joked about Trump’s 1987 book The Art of the Deal.

“The Israelis are going to have to show some flexibility and I think they’ll do that,” Trump said.

Both men said that a deal would likely incorporate participation from the wider Arab world, which for its part insists peace will only come through the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu repeated his belief that settlement activity is not central to the conflict.

But he did acknowledge “it’s an issue,” and said he would work with Trump on mechanisms to avoid repeated confrontations over construction.

While the two leaders seemed at odds on settlement activity and the viability of a peace process, they seemed in agreement on Iran, which they said was a focus of their consultations.

Next to a grinning Netanyahu, Trump repeated his criticism of the international agreement governing Iran’s nuclear program as the worst deal ever made. And Netanyahu characterized Iran as the core of a scourge Trump has vowed to eliminate: radical Islamic terrorism.

“You’ve shown great clarity and courage in confronting this challenge head-on,” Netanyahu said, expressing concern with Iran’s ballistic missile program and the long-term growth of its nuclear infrastructure in the latter years of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The press conference was followed by meetings and a working lunch. Netanyahu will meet with congressional leadership on Thursday afternoon.

Also attending the joint press conference in the East Room were the leaders’ wives, Sara Netanyahu and Melania Trump; White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump; White House press secretary Sean Spicer; chief strategist Steve Bannon; chief of staff Reince Priebus; and Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.

Dennis Ross: Trump likely to restore Bush-Sharon agreement on settlements

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump are likely to agree on a return to the understandings their respective predecessors Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush reached on Israeli settlements, veteran peace negotiator Dennis Ross said.

In 2004, Bush sent a letter to the Israeli premier acknowledging the existence of large Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank and said it would be “unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final-status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”

But he also insisted that “any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”

On a call with reporters Monday hosted by The Israel Project, Ross said that messages coming out of the White House suggested that a return to the framework would be a likely outcome of Wednesday’s meeting between Trump and Netanyahu.

“I think what you’re going to see is some understanding… including perhaps a resurrection of the Bush-Sharon letter,” he said.

A White House statement released earlier this month said the administration did not think “the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace,” but that “the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful.”

That assertion aligned with the posture taken by the Bush administration but later abandoned by president Barack Obama, who saw all Israeli construction over the Green Line as an obstacle to peace.

George W. Bush, right, and Ariel Sharon, left, walk together at the end of a joint press conference in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington in April, 2004. (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

George W. Bush, right, and Ariel Sharon, left, walk together at the end of a joint press conference in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington in April, 2004. (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Ross said such a return to the Bush letter would have “significant implications, both because it was recognizing settlement blocs referred to in the letter as major population centers, but also because it said that no agreement can involve going back to the 1949 Armistice lines or the equivalent of June 4, 1967.”

Such a posture on the part of the Trump administration would have additional implications due to a December United Nations Security Council resolution that the Obama administration abstained from vetoing, and that branded settlements as illegal, calling for a complete halt to all construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

Samantha Power, center, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, votes to abstain during a UN Security Council vote on condemning Israel's settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Friday, Dec. 23, 2016 at United Nations Headquarters. (Manuel Elias/The United Nations via AP)

Samantha Power, center, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, votes to abstain during a UN Security Council vote on condemning Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Friday, Dec. 23, 2016 at United Nations Headquarters. (Manuel Elias/The United Nations via AP)

“That’s a significant statement to get re-established because if you look at Security Council Resolution 2334 … it effectively created June 4, ’67 as a default position,” said Ross, who worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations, most recently during Obama’s first term.

“And so, it’s important, I think, for Israel, to get the Bush-Sharon letter resurrected, but it has implications in terms of a limitation on settlement activity, and it leads you more to building in the blocs and not outside the blocs.”

Making that understanding public, Ross added, would also be helpful to Netanyahu, who has faced increasing pressure from right-wing members of his coalition since Trump won the election to move forward on approving more settlement projects.

“The irony is, of course, that that will help the prime minister with the pressure he’s under from Jewish Home and some of the right within his own party,” he said. “I think he would see it as an achievement to have the Bush-Sharon letter resurrected, and I think there is at least some potential of that.”

Trump Netanyahu

While Trump made suggestions during the campaign he would allow Israel free rein on the settlements, he has recently signaled a different tune.

In an interview last week with the Sheldon Adelson-owned pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom, Trump spoke in surprisingly critical terms of the impact settlements have on the prospects of a peace deal.

“Every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left,” he said. “But we are looking at that, and we are looking at some other options we’ll see. But no, I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”

Jared Kushner at a meeting between President Trump and auto industry leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Jan. 24, 2017. (Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images)

Jared Kushner at a meeting between President Trump and auto industry leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Jan. 24, 2017. (Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images)

But Trump’s meeting with Netanyahu this week will give him a chance to craft an official policy toward settlements, something that will be relevant for his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner, who he delegated to lead the administration’s peace efforts.

On Kushner’s role as a diplomat, Ross argued it was imperative for Middle East leaders to know he can really speak for the president.

“One thing I can tell you: authority matters,” he said. “People in the region — they can smell it when negotiators don’t have it. And I think that having the authority counts for a lot.”

Expanding settlements ‘absolute provocation‘ — Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday became the latest in a string of world leaders to criticize Israel’s decision to expand settlements in the West Bank, calling the move an “absolute provocation,” the Turkish news agency Anadolu reported.

Erdogan made the remarks on live TV during an official visit to Bahrain.

“Israel’s decision to construct new settlement units in East Jerusalem and West Bank is an absolute provocation,” Erdogan said.

The plan constituted a violation of international law, he added. “Ending the illegal settlement activity is a precondition for lasting peace and stability in the Middle East,” he said.

Erdogan’s criticism comes just months after Jerusalem and Ankara began patching up long-tense relations.

Turkey and Israel renewed bilateral ties in the summer. Ankara broke off relations with Jerusalem following a raid by Israeli forces on a Gaza blockade-busting ship, the Mavi Marmara, in 2010, in which 10 Turks were killed in a melee after they attacked IDF troops.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman approved the construction of around 3,000 new homes in the West Bank, some of them outside settlement blocs Israel hopes to keep in a future peace deal with the Palestinians.

A picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows a general view of a construction site in a new housing project in the Israeli settlement of Nili, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP Photo/Gil Cohen-Magen)

A picture taken on February 8, 2017 shows a general view of a construction site in a new housing project in the Israeli settlement of Nili, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP Photo/Gil Cohen-Magen)

The decision came a week after Israel had green-lighted the construction of 566 housing units in East Jerusalem and another 2,500 homes in the West Bank.

France, Germany, the EU and the Arab League are among those that have lambasted Israel’s settlement expansion decision. The Trump administration has said such construction “may not be helpful” in achieving peace.

The Jazar Mosque in the Old City of the northern Israeli city of Acre on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, June 3, 2016. (Zack Wajsgras/Flash90)

The Jazar Mosque in the Old City of the northern Israeli city of Acre on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, June 3, 2016. (Zack Wajsgras/Flash90)

Erdogan also used his speech to condemn Israeli government moves to limit the volume of calls to prayer issued from the country’s mosques.

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a new draft of the so-called Muezzin Bill.

“Not only Muslims but everybody should be sensitive to all practices that disturb peace of the international community and hurt conscience in Jerusalem, which is our first qiblah,” Erdogan said.

Qiblah is the direction Muslims turn during prayer.

“Such steps will not be of any use other than heightening tension,” Erdogan warned.

If the bill passes its initial reading in the Knesset, expected to take place on Wednesday, it will be sent back to committee, after which it will again come before the plenum for its second and third readings prior to becoming law. The ministerial committee’s backing gives the bill coalition support.