Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had made clear to President Donald Trump that he is not prepared to evacuate “a single person” from any West Bank settlements.

When asked if he knew the details of Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” Netanyahu told Channel 13 in an interview broadcast Friday that he knew what he had told Trump to include in the agreement.

“I know what I said: I said there can’t be the removal of even one settlement, and [that Israel insists on] our continued control of all the territory to the west of the Jordan,” Netanyahu said.

Asked in the interview, which was recorded on Wednesday, whether he had specified this to Trump personally, Netanyahu said he had set out the same positions to Trump and former US President Barack Obama. He elaborated that he had specified to Trump that he would not evacuate “a single person” from the settlements.

“You said that to Trump?” he was asked.

“Like that,” he said, adding that it had been recorded. 

Were the US plan to contradict those positions, he indicated, it would not be viable. “As far as I am concerned, [the evacuation of settlements] won’t be there [in the plan], and if it is [in the plan], it won’t [happen].”

Trump, he said, “is the best friend Israel has had” in the White House, and respects his position, “as I respect his,” when he insists on something.

When asked if he expected the US administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank like Trump recognized the Golan Heights last month, and why he wasn’t pressing Trump now to approve Israeli sovereignty over the settlements, Netanyahu said: “Wait until the next term.”

“All the settlements, without exception, those that are in blocs and those that aren’t, need to remain under Israeli sovereignty,” Netanyahu told interviewers Rani Rahav and Sharon Gal, adding that this would “eventually” happen. 

Over 400,000 Jews live in West Bank settlements. Another 200,000-plus live in East Jerusalem neighborhoods annexed by Israel after the 1967 war.

The prime minister’s comments in the interview, which fly in the face of Palestinian demands for statehood in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, did not make immediate headlines in Israel. This may have been because it was broadcast at the start of Shabbat in a political chat show that preceded the main evening news, rather than in the main news broadcast. Netanyahu has taken an increasingly hard line against Palestinian statehood, having accepted the idea in principle in a 2009 speech.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Channel 13, April 5, 2019. (Channel 13 screenshot)

Netanyahu highlighted his longtime personal connections to other world leaders in the interview, saying he speaks “eye-to-eye” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that these relationships would help Israel achieve peace in the region by keeping it in a position of power.

“Our neighbors, and the Iranians, hope to destroy us. The peace that you can get, it’s only from a position of power,” he said.

International interest and investment in Israel was growing, and other countries in the Middle East are moving to forge ties with Israel because of its strength, he said.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi visit the water desalination plant at Olga beach on July 6, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

“The whole world is coming to us. Powerful world leaders — the president of China, Xi [Jinping], the president of India, [Narendra] Modi, a personal friend, the president of Japan, [Shinzo] Abe,” he said. (Modi and Abe are in fact the prime ministers of their respective countries.)

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Date published: 11/04/2019
Written by: TOI STAFF
Feature image:  US President Donald Trump (R) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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