Benjamin Netanyahu pledges commitment to peace effort

  • 28/03/2017
Benjamin Netanyahu
Mr Netanyahu has set a more positive tone with Mr Trump than with previous President Barack Obama (Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is committed to working with US President Donald Trump to advance peace efforts with the Palestinians and with the broader Arab world.

Mr Netanyahu made the pledge in a speech to the largest US pro-Israel lobbying group on Monday (local time).

The comments come at a time when the Trump administration is seeking agreement with his right-wing government on limiting settlement construction on land the Palestinians want for a state, part of a US bid to resume long-stalled peace negotiations.

But Mr Netanyahu, speaking via satellite link from Jerusalem, avoided any mention of the delicate discussions and stopped short of reiterating a commitment to a two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Israel's hand and my hand is extended to all of our neighbours in peace," Mr Netanyahu told the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

"Israel is committed to working with President Trump to advance peace with the Palestinians and with all our neighbours."

But he repeated his demand that the Palestinians recognise Israel as a Jewish state, something they have refused to do.

Mr Netanyahu heaped praise on Mr Trump, who has set a more positive tone with Israel than his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, who often clashed with the Israeli leader.

He thanked the new Republican president for a recent US budget request that "leaves military aid to Israel fully funded".

He also expressed confidence in a US-Israeli partnership for preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon, following its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, and for "confronting Iran's aggression in the region".

Many Israelis had expected Mr Trump, because of his pro-Israel campaign rhetoric, to give a green light for settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.

But Mr Trump unexpectedly urged Mr Netanyahu last month to "hold back on settlements for a little bit".

There is scepticism in the United States and Middle East over the chances for restarting Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. Peace talks have been frozen since 2014.

Most countries consider Israeli settlements, built on land captured in a 1967 war, to be illegal. Israel disagrees, citing historical and political links to the land, as well as security interests.

Mr Trump has expressed ambivalence about a two-state solution, the mainstay of US policy for the past two decades, but he recently invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to visit.