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Israeli PM returns from 3-day trip to US

Nov. 12, 2015 5:16 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 12, 2015 6:52 P.M.)
(AFP/Abir Sultan, File)

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left the United States early Thursday after a three day visit to the ally country, Israeli media reported.

The visit -- the PM’s first to the US since the Iran nuclear deal was finalized -- included a meeting with US president Barack Obama that Netanyahu deemed during a press briefing as “one of the best meetings” to take place between the two leaders.

Despite a series of recent diplomatic blow-ups between the two parties, Obama told Netanyahu during a Monday meeting that he hoped to get a “head start” planning future aid to Israel.

US Congressional sources told Israeli daily Haaretz that Israel requested $5 billion in annual defense aid from the US that would be fixed for the next ten years.

The annual aid would far surpass the $3 billion per year currently received by Israel on a budget agreement set to end by the year 2018.

White House spokesperson Jon Earnest was not able to confirm exact plans for the future fiscal budget for US aid to Israel, but reiterated earlier this week during a press briefing the Obama administration's "commitment to Israel’s national security."

“We are committed to the Israelis continuing to have a qualitative military edge in the region,” Earnest said.

In addition to aid, Syria also sat high on the agenda for Monday’s meeting between Obama and Netanyahu.

Obama reportedly rejected a proposal set forth by the Israeli PM for the US to recognize Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan Heights. The proposal was reportedly rejected in order to counter increased upset in neighboring Syria, sources told Haaretz.

The US president said the request was “unjustified” and and risked hindering US-backed Syrian opposition forces, the daily added.

Despite a muted response from Obama regarding Netanyahu’s visit this week, US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to travel to Israel next month to continue talks with Israeli leadership.

Unilateral moves 'possible'

On the second day of his US trip, Netanyahu said during an interview with Washington-based think tank Center for American Progress that taking “unilateral” moves in occupied Palestinian territory was “possible.”

While possible, Netanyahu added that a unilateral withdrawal from the occupied West Bank would require Israel to maintain “security presence” in the area, as would be the case in any negotiated agreement, he said.

The Israeli PM also denied that settlement expansion was taking over a significant portion of Palestinian land, saying that the “total amount of built-up land is….maybe one tenth of one percent.”

However, according to United Nation's documentation, more than 60 percent of the occupied West Bank is under full Israeli control.

Netanyahu’s statement comes as over 200 Israeli settlements and outposts continue to expand across Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, interconnected by Israeli-built infrastructure and effectively making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

Netanyahu said that settlements were “not a core issue,” adding that a refusal by Palestinian leadership to acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state was the only impediment to establishing an independent Palestinian state.

When asked why Israel wouldn’t stop settlement expansion now, Netanyahu said, “because people live there.”

He also rejected that his leadership acted to stall peace with the Palestinians, saying that he is willing to speak with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas “right now, without any conditions.”

Abbas has also said in the past that Palestinian leadership was open to talks with the Israeli PM, however negotiations between the two sides have repeatedly failed over the past few decades to end the ongoing Israeli occupation.

Kerry, in tandem with other international leaders, has geared up in recent weeks to set the stage to restart negotiations in the wake of ongoing violence in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel.

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