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PM Netanyahu In Washington For AIPAC Conference, Meetings With President Trump

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is on a four-day trip to Washington, where he will deliver an address at the annual conference of the AIPAC pro-Israel lobbying group and hold multiple meetings with President Donald Trump at the White House. “Never – never – has there been a relationship like this between an Israeli prime minister and an American president,” Netanyahu said ahead of his departure, adding that this was a “very, very important asset for the State of Israel.” On Monday, the prime minister will attend a “working meeting” with Trump that will focus on “Iran’s attempts to establish military bases in Syria, and how to prevent [Tehran] from obtaining nuclear weapons.” In this respect, Netanyahu is partially credited with having persuaded Trump to assume a hardline approach to Iran, manifest in the decision to withdraw the US from the 2015 nuclear accord and reimpose sanctions on the Islamic Republic. On Tuesday evening, Trump will host Netanyahu and his wife for a dinner that reportedly will include pomp and ceremony generally reserved for heads of state (which, in Israel’s case, is President Reuven Rivlin). At some point during the proceedings, Trump is expected to sign a formal declaration recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which was captured from Syria during the 1967 war and formally annexed in 1981. The move is supported across most of the Israeli political spectrum and comes on the heels of Trump’s recognition in December 2017 of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Netanyahu’s high-profile visit has raised eyebrows given the close proximity to Israel’s April 9 national election and its potential to provide Netanyahu with an electoral boost in what has become a tight campaign race. Perhaps notably, the prime minister’s main political rival, Blue and White party leader and ex-military chief Benny Gantz, will also be in Washington to address the AIPAC summit, though he was not invited to meet with the US president. Following Gantz’s decision in February to join forces with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party – this, after partnering with the Telem party of another former IDF chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon – the centrist bloc was polling ahead of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud. The sitting prime minister has since almost entirely closed the gap, with the latest surveys showing he is currently best positioned to form a governing coalition comprising right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.