Trump to host embattled Israeli prime minister next month

President Donald Trump will host ...

Posted: Feb 16, 2018 9:20 PM
Updated: Feb 16, 2018 9:20 PM

President Donald Trump will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House next month, the White House announced on Friday.

A White House official confirmed that Netanyahu will meet with Trump on March 5, when Netanyahu is in Washington for the annual AIPAC conference. The announcement comes just days after Israeli police recommended prosecutors indict the Israeli prime minister on bribery charges following a lengthy investigation.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and has yet to be indicted, but the police recommendations have already left the prime minister -- who must already contend with a tenuous governing coalition -- politically bruised. But a warm embrace from the American president in Washington could help Netanyahu stem some of the bleeding in Israel, where Trump is wildly popular.

Netanyahu's visit will be his second to the White House since Trump became President. He was one of the first foreign leaders to be invited to the White House after Trump's inauguration in 2017, a gesture that Trump said at the time "reaffirms our unbreakable bond with our cherished ally, Israel."

Trump's relationship with Netanyahu has been among Trump's closest with any other world leader and predates Trump's time in office. That relationship has only improved in the wake of Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and his order to move the US embassy there -- a campaign promise previous presidents have made, but never fulfilled.

The White House offered no indication of the agenda for Netanyahu's visit, but during previous meetings, Trump has sought to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt have been quietly working to develop a peace plan proposal. But that process has remained stalled since Trump's Jerusalem decision drew a stiff rebuke from Palestinian leaders, who have refused to engage in a US-led peace process in the wake of the Jerusalem decision.

Netanyahu's potential indictment has also left observers of the peace process skeptical that any peace proposal could gain traction while Netanyahu finds himself in such a precarious legal and political situation.

A second White House official insisted the police recommendations for a Netanyahu indictment will have "no impact on the content or timing of our plan that is currently being drafted."

Netanyahu most recently met with Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to the region last month.

Pence traveled to Israel and Jordan in mid-January to meet with Netanyahu and other leaders in the region. While in Israel, he also visited the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray, and addressed the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

There, Pence talked up the administration's plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and laid out the timeline for the move.

"In the weeks ahead, our administration will advance its plan to open the United States Embassy in Jerusalem and that United States Embassy will open before the end of next year," Pence said.

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