Kafe Knesset for Feb. 13

A delegation of over 32 journalists gathered this afternoon at Ben Gurion International Airport to accompany Prime Minister Netanyahu on his trip to the United States. It’s an unusually high number compared to recent years, as many Israeli media outlets, large and small, sent representatives (a leased El Al 767; an Israeli Air Force 1 is still on the way), and they were joined by foreign press representatives as well. Escorting Netanyahu on this historic trip are his national security advisor Yaakov Nagal, chief of staff Yoav Horwitz, cabinet secretary Tzachi Braverman, and Hebrew and Foreign press spokespeople Boaz Stembler and David Keyes.

Before boarding the plane, Netanyahu told reporters that the “U.S.-Israel alliance has always been strong and is about to get stronger. Trump and I see the challenges and opportunities ahead eye to eye. I will lead and I will steer the relationship to benefit our national interest and all Israeli citizens.”

Netanyahu has been preparing for this visit for weeks. Yesterday, he convened a special cabinet meeting to discuss the agenda for his first encounter with the new administration, which lasted four hours. Netanyahu already stated in advance that he intends to “listen” to the cabinet ministers, and then essentially do what he wants. In sharp contrast to the high volume with which some of his ministers have attacked him in recent days, the meeting was apparently calm and cordial. “Netanyahu is in his highest element when dealing with the US,” a senior cabinet minister told Kafe Knesset. “As he considers himself “Mr. America” it’s quite difficult to challenge him on these issues and even Bennet was well behaved.” After raising demands in recent weeks, calling on Netanyahu to denounce the two-state solution, Bennet changed his tone, wishing the PM bon voyage. “We trust you and back you 100% in the mission of keeping Israel the Jewish homeland,” Bennet said at a Jerusalem conference.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid also wished Netanyahu a successful voyage, emphasizing in his weekly faction meeting the importance of forming a positive working relationship with the new US administration. But he also criticized the coalition for playing political games ahead of the meeting. “In recent days there has been pressure on the PM, mostly from the Jewish home but also the Likud, to try and get pro-settlements statements from the new president or to announce his renunciation of the Bar Ilan speech [endorsing the two-state solution]. What do these ministers and MKs want – do they want the PM to enter the White House and start fighting with the new president? There’s a limit for this national irresponsibility – we cannot throw aside our security interests and foreign relations just because politicians are busy with themselves.”

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