In a telephone call last year, US President Donald Trump bluntly asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whether he was genuinely interested in peace with the Palestinians, Axios reported Sunday.The question, which shocked those in the room, came in the midst of a longer, and largely friendly, conversation between the two leaders. According to three sources familiar with the call, Trump had recently read news reports that said Netanyahu was planning to expand Jewish settlement construction in order to shore up support among his right-wing base. The president believed such a move would unnecessarily anger the Palestinian leadership and endanger his much-touted “deal of the century” to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.The report did not include Netanyahu’s answer to Trump’s direct query.“The president has an extremely close and candid relationship with the prime minister of Israel and appreciates his strong efforts to enhance the cause of peace in the face of numerous challenges,” a senior White House official responded to the Axios article.“The president has great relationships with a number of foreign leaders but that doesn’t mean he can’t be aggressive when it comes to negotiating what’s best for America,” added White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.
The revelation of the unvarnished exchange between the two leaders comes only a month before the implementation of Trump's controversial decision to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to a recent State Department press release. The new embassy will open in May to “coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary,” the press release states. The embassy will be located in the building that now houses the US Consulate General in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood.“This is a great day for the people of Israel,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued by the Israel Embassy in Washington.“President Trump’s decision to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem on the coming Independence Day follows his historic declaration in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.This decision will turn Israel’s 70th Independence Day into an even bigger celebration.Thank you President Trump for your leadership and friendship."Trump's decision to move the American embassy came on the heels of his December announcement that the United States officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The Palestinian response to the embassy relocation announcement was swift. The move showed a “determination to violate international law, destroy the two-state solution and provoke the feelings of the Palestinian people as well as of all Arabs, Muslims and Christians around the globe,” said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, in a February interview with Reuters.“Trump and his team have disqualified the US from being part of the solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Rather, the world now sees that they are part of the problem,” Erekat said.
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Trump tells Israel to "hold back on settlements" during meeting with Netanyahu at White House on Feb. 15, 2017 (credit: REUTERS)