US President Donald Trump has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit him in Washington next month, the premier’s office said, quoting their first conversation since Trump took office.
“President Trump invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to come to Washington to meet him in February,” it said in a statement yesterday.
“A final date for the visit will be set in the days ahead.”
Israel approved hundreds of new settler homes in east Jerusalem yesterday hours before the telephone call, which the statement described as “very warm”.
But a potentially explosive plan to annex a large West Bank Jewish settlement unilaterally was shelved until after Netanyahu and Trump meet.
Trump told reporters at the White House that his call with Israel’s premier was “very nice”, without elaborating.
“The two leaders discussed the nuclear deal with Iran, the peace process with the Palestinians and other issues,” Netanyahu’s office said.
“The Prime Minister expressed his desire to work closely with President Trump to forge a common vision to advance peace and security in the region,” it said.
Trump has pledged strong support for Israel and vowed during his campaign to recognise Jerusalem as the country’s capital despite the city’s contested status.
But the White House yesterday appeared to play down suggestions that relocating the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was imminent.
“We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told AFP.
Like other major powers, the US maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv pending a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Jerusalem’s status.
Israel captured Arab east Jerusalem during the 1967 war and later annexed it -- in a move not recognised by the international community -- declaring all of the city its unified capital.
The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The United States is Israel’s most important ally, providing it with more than $3 billion per year in defence aid, but former president Barack Obama grew frustrated with Israeli settlement building.
He declined to veto a December 23 UN Security Council resolution condemning settlements. Trump had called for the resolution to be vetoed.
In an initial move following Trump’s inauguration, Israeli officials yesterday approved building permits for 566 settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem.
“The rules of the game have changed with Donald Trump’s arrival as president,” Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Turjeman told AFP.