White House

Trump and Netanyahu: Embattled leaders turn to each other for political boost

President, Israeli prime minister meet Monday amid scandals for both

President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in February 2017. (Alex Wong/Getty Images file photo)

Two embattled leaders will meet Monday at the White House, one hoping the visit will boost him in an election just over the horizon and the other hopeful it will keep his conservative base engaged for an election in 20 months.

President Donald Trump will welcome Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the executive mansion for meetings Monday and a dinner in his honor on Tuesday evening. The longtime Israeli leader faces a Knesset election on April 9 and hopes to showcase to voters at home that his relationship with Trump is too important to oust him from office.

Netanyahu faces indictment on corruption charges, and Trump is being investigated by federal and state law enforcement officials, as well as House Democrats. The Russia

The American leader is just beginning to ramp up his re-election campaign, but many of his public remarks and policy moves appear aimed at his political base, without which polls show he could not win a second term. Like many other issues, Trump on Friday tried to use Israel to bludgeon Democrats.

The Democrats have very much proven to be anti-Israel. There’s no question about that. And it’s a disgrace,” he said as he left the White House for his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. “I don’t know what’s happened to them, but they are totally anti-Israel. Frankly, I think they’re anti-Jewish.”

Trump has been on the offensive since freshman Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar suggested politicians are overly influenced by pro-Israel donors’ campaign contributions.

Flashback: Trump calls on Rep. Ilhan Omar to resign

‘A big win’

On Thursday, Trump tried to boost both campaigns just four days before Netanyahu’s visit when he announced he was breaking with decades of U.S. policy by recognizing the Golan Heights as sovereign Israeli territory.

Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group consulting firm, called that decision “a big win for Netanyahu with elections coming up.”

David Alexrod, a Democratic strategist who worked for former President Barack Obama described the move in a tweet as Trump throwing Netanyahu a “life preserver” before his election.

And a list of Republican lawmakers, including Senate Foreign Relations member Marco Rubio of Florida, also voiced their support.

[Trump continues to bash McCain as ‘horrible’ for role in Russia dossier]

But Trump denied that the policy shift was aimed at boosting his friend and ally ahead of the Knesset election that will decide Netanyahu’s political fate.

“I wouldn’t even know about that,” Trump told Fox Business Network in an interview that aired Friday morning when asked about Netanyahu’s political standing.

“I hear he is doing OK,” the president said a few weeks after his official Instagram account posted a picture of a Netanyahu campaign billboard that reads: “Netanyahu. In Another League.”

Trump tried to put distance between the Golan Heights decision and the Israeli election, saying, “I would imagine the other side, whoever’s against him is also in favor of what I just did.”

But Aaron David Miller of the nonpartisan Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who has advised Republican and Democratic White Houses, said Trump’s Golan move was based on “pure and unadulterated domestic politics — helping Netanyahu get re-elected is great for Trump’s politics; but it’s not a compelling U.S. national interest.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham argued differently earlier this month during a trip to the Golan Heights with Netanyahu.

“For decades, this was one of the more peaceful parts of the border that Israel has to police, but not so much now,” the South Carolina Republican said. “So, I have a simple message. I will go back to the United States Senate and … I will start a simple effort to recognize the Golan as part of the State of Israel — now and forever.”

On Thursday, Graham called for lawmakers to “follow President Trump’s lead on this issue.”

“I’m urging Senate leadership to take up [Sen. Ted] Cruz’s legislation to recognize that the Golan Heights are part of Israel,” he tweeted. “I hope and believe there is widespread bipartisan support for this proposal.”

[Little-known provision prevents Dreamers from working on Capitol Hill]

Shared interests

Once Netanyahu arrives in Washington, expect the two leaders to gush about one another. The two often call each other friends in public comments, as they did when the Israeli leader visited Washington in February 2017.

“I’ve known the president and I’ve known his family and his team for a long time,” Netanyahu said during a joint news conference then. “And there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump.”

Behind closed doors, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement the two presidents will discuss “their countries’ shared interests and actions in the Middle East.”

But there are plenty of other issues they will have to talk about, experts say.

That list includes Iran, “Sunni extremists” and “Iranian proxies,” Jonathan Schanzer and David Adesnik of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies wrote in a white paper last week.

“Even with full control of the Golan, Israel continues to face serious threats from just across the border,” the FDD analysts wrote. On March 13 “the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced its discovery of a nascent Hezbollah cell in the Syrian Golan, led by U.S.-designated terrorist Ali Musa Daqduq, who spent four years in U.S. custody in Iraq for kidnapping and killing five U.S. soldiers.”

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