JERUSALEM— -- Before boarding his plane to Washington D.C., today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on the tarmac in Tel Aviv that he and the new U.S. president see "eye to eye."
After three weeks of sending mixed messages, Netanyahu and President Trump will finally meet Wednesday.
"Trump and I see eye to eye on the dangers emanating from the region but also on the opportunities," Netanyahu said today. "And we'll talk about both.”
At first emboldened by the perceived friendlier tone from Washington after eight years of clashing with the Obama administration, Netanyahu may discover that the past three weeks are not necessarily representative of the next four years.
Since Trump took office Jan. 20, Netanyahu has cranked settlement expansion into high gear, initially suggesting that the White House had given Israel the green light to build in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Netanyahu announced the approval of more than 6,000 housing units in the first two weeks of Trump’s presidency, all of which the United Nations considers illegal.
But over the weekend, Trump spoke with right-wing Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, which is supported by Trump donor and Netanyahu patron Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas, appearing to soften his previously stated positions in support of settlements.
"No, I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace," Trump told the paper.
Still, Netanyahu struck an optimistic tone this week.
"We have known each other for years," he said of Trump Sunday before his weekly cabinet meeting. "I have navigated Israeli-U.S. relations in a prudent manner and I will continue to do so now."
Sensing opportunity, Netanyahu's right-wing coalition members have ramped up pressure in recent days to convince the prime minister to take a harder line with Trump, specifically on settlements and peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu's chief political rival and leader of the far right, pro-settlement Jewish Home Party, Neftali Bennett, has strongly advocated for annexation of the West Bank and publicly argued for Netanyahu to reverse his established support for the two-state solution when he meets with Trump Wednesday.
“If in their statements after the meeting they mention, for the first time in Trump’s term, their obligation to forming Palestine or two states in one way or another, we will all feel it in our flesh for years to come," Bennett posted on Facebook. "The earth will shake.”
Trump has voiced support for a peace deal, putting forth his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as the man for the job, but has offered few specifics.
Back on the tarmac today, Netanyahu reiterated that "the alliance between Israel and America has always been extremely strong and it's about to get even stronger."