Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Donald Trump and is scheduled to meet Hillary Clinton on Sunday, and stressed that the engagements were not meant to interfere with hyper-charged American politics.
In meeting the Republican presidential nominee, Netanyahu thanked him for his continued support for Israel, his commitment to continued pressuring of Iran and for his opposition to efforts at the United Nations to impose terms of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu intended to deliver the same message to Clinton when he met with her during their meeting scheduled later in the day.
Trump hosted Israel’s prime minister privately in his gilded Trump Tower apartment on Sunday morning for nearly an hour and a half, where they discussed “at length Israel’s successful experience with a security fence,” which Trump has cited as a model for his proposed US border wall with Mexico, the campaign said.
They also discussed “the nuclear deal with Iran, the battle against ISIS and many other regional security concerns.”
Under a Trump presidency, the United States will “finally accept the longstanding congressional mandate to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel,” according to his campaign’s description of the meeting, which was closed to the press.
Israeli officials said that Netanyahu thanked Trump for his friendship and support of the Jewish state.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said he was accompanied to the meeting by Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, and that Trump was joined by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Sources in the PMO explained why Netanyahu went to Trump’s residence at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, rather than Trump coming to Netanyahu’s hotel, saying that the prime minister understood and respected the time constraints on Trump just prior to his critical debate with Clinton on Monday evening.
The only other world leader who has met with both Clinton and Trump during the week of the UN General Assembly – at a time when dozens of world leaders were in New York – was Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Though the decision to meet with Trump was criticized by some as giving legitimacy to the Republican candidate, who in addition to Sisi has only met with one other foreign leader during the campaign – Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto – the meeting was arranged only after it was clear that one would also be set up with Clinton.
In addition to meeting Sisi and her planned meeting with Netanyahu, Clinton also spoke last week with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko. Neither of them met with Trump.
Netanyahu has taken pains to maintain a perception of strict impartiality in this election, apparently having learned a lesson from 2012, when he was widely perceived and criticized for favoring Republican Mitt Romney over the incumbent President Barack Obama.
At the end of July, Jerusalem hotly denied that Israel’s leadership harbored a preference for Trump over Clinton, as claimed by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in a Washington Post story.
“The prime minister expressed no preference whatsoever in this presidential race,” Netanyahu’s spokesman David Keyes said at the time. “He has scrupulously avoided being dragged into American politics, and looks forward to working with whomever the American people decide to elect.”
Others are not so neutral.
Just two weeks ago, one of Trump’s top advisers on Israel, David Friedman, met in Hempstead, New York with a visiting delegation from the Samaria Regional Council.
They were there with council head Yossi Dagan, to sign a sister city pact with Hempstead, where Monday night’s debate will take place.
In a closed door meeting, Friedman assured them that a Trump presidency would improve ties between America and the Jewish state. “There is an opportunity for the first time in the history of this country to have a relationship between the US and Israel where Israel is no longer treated as a client state,” Friedman said.
In the past, he said, monetary assistance for Israel was given with the expectation of receiving something in return. With Trump, Friedman said, it would be “more in the nature of a partnership where we are both on the front lines, Israel frankly, more than the United States, in a joint battle against radical Islam.
“In that context the last thing the Untied States would want is for Israel to be weakened,” he said. “Israel helps us as much as we help Israel,” said Friedman, adding that the strategic relationship between the two countries was “essential to keep America safe and not just Israel safe.”
Friedman spoke in support of Netanyahu’s video in which the Israeli prime minister warned that the Palestinians wanted to “ethnically cleanse” the West Bank of Jews.
“There are 400,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria.
To create a Judenrein state in the ancestral home of the Jewish people, is something that believe it or not Hillary would endorse tomorrow,” Friedman said.
“We will fight eternally to keep that from happening,” he added.
Source close to Netanyahu made clear last week in new York that they were interested in a meeting with both candidates, and this led to a call from the Trump camp that dealt with the logistics of a possible meeting. After it became clear that Trump was interested in a meeting, Netanyahu’s office turned to the Clinton camp, which also expressed a willingness to meet.
A description of Netanyahu’s meeting with Clinton – is set to be available to members of the press who are following her candidacy – were not available by the time this newspaper went to print. But Israeli officials expressed Netanyahu’s intent to relay a similar message to both nominees.
His emphasis on the importance of US opposition to action at the UN Security Council is particularly important in his meeting with Clinton. The Democratic nominee has already come out against such moves, but the Israeli government hopes for more vocal opposition from the nominee in the coming days in order to dissuade US President Barack Obama, who is said to be considering it.
Netanyahu met with both candidates just hours before the most consequential single night of the campaign: The first one-on-one presidential debate, which is expected to break viewership records.
The two nominees have been training themselves for weeks, and intensely at their New York homes in recent days. Trump, for his part, has been preparing for “his entire lifetime,” his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, said on Sunday morning.
“It’s going to be change versus status quo,” said Pence of the debate, “and I’m looking forward to being front and center in that debate and seeing Donald Trump take his case to the American people.”
For her part, Clinton enters Monday night as one of the most seasoned debaters in American politics. But she goes up against a candidate who has shown both a unique ruthlessness on past stages, as well as an ability to measure himself, confusing her campaign as to who exactly will show up.
Both may have invited ghosts from their opponent’s past to the event: The Trump campaign allegedly reached out to Gennifer Flowers, said to be an old fling of Bill Clinton, and the Clinton camp apparently offered a seat to Mark Cuban, a vocal Trump critic.
The debate will be held at Hofstra University in New York.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress and half-hearted Trump supporter, advised his nominee to “prepare, prepare, prepare.”
“I have no idea which way this election is going to go,” Ryan said on CBS’s Face the Nation.Reuters contributed to this report.