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As Scandals Swirl At Home, Netanyahu Visits To Talk Iran, Embassy Move With Trump

Mar 4, 2018
Originally published on March 7, 2018 1:18 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the U.S. He just arrived today. He's here for AIPAC, a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that's here in Washington, D.C. Netanyahu is scheduled to give a speech at AIPAC next week and plans to meet with President Trump at the White House. It's a chance to discuss policy issues like the Iran nuclear deal and the Trump administration's plan for peace in the Middle East. But it's also a chance for Netanyahu to get away from the corruption allegations that are heating up back home in Israel.

Here to tell us more is NPR's Jerusalem correspondent, Daniel Estrin. He's traveling with Prime Minister Netanyahu this week, which gives us a chance to catch up with him in person here at our Washington, D.C., studios. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Great to be here.

MARTIN: So what is Netanyahu looking to gain from this trip? Well, he spoke with us before boarding the plane in Tel Aviv, and he said it was a very important trip. He said the top of his agenda is - to discuss with President Trump - is Iran - the Iranian nuclear deal, which Israel opposes, Iran's military buildup in Syria just across Israel's border. Netanyahu also said he'd be speaking to Trump about him possibly going to Jerusalem in May to inaugurate the new embassy. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I'm very grateful to him for this historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to move the American embassy to Jerusalem on our independence day. Great news.

MARTIN: Well, as we mentioned, the prime minister is facing corruption allegations back home. For people who aren't following this closely, can you just remind us of what he's accused of and where the investigation stands?

ESTRIN: Well, last month, police recommended Netanyahu be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two different corruption cases. He's suspected of accepting expensive gifts from a Hollywood producer and an Australian businessman in exchange for favors. He's also suspected of making a backroom deal with an Israeli newspaper publisher to help him with business in exchange for getting favorable coverage in his newspaper. And then, on Friday, just before Netanyahu left for Washington, police questioned him and his wife for several hours about suspicions that he gave regulatory favors to a major telecom company in exchange for positive coverage on a news website that that company owns.

So there are a number of different corruption cases here. It'll be up to the attorney general to decide whether Netanyahu gets indicted. Netanyahu says he's done nothing wrong. He has even questioned the motives of the police investigating him. But recent polls suggest that about half of Israelis think he should step down. You know, talking about Netanyahu's political future, it struck me - he got out of his motorcade yesterday where all the reporters were waiting at the tarmac. He gets out with his wife. He stands before all the cameras and all the reporters. He looks at the cameras, and he just - he looks like he's kind of glowing. He looks absolutely confident. This is his moment in America really to shine, to look like a statesman, and to show his people back home in Israel that he has everything under control and he's going to stay in power.

MARTIN: Well, back to this country, President Trump has said in the past that he wants to broker the ultimate deal for Middle East peace. Where does that stand?

ESTRIN: This is very interesting because this was one of Trumps biggest objectives at the beginning of his presidency - the ultimate deal for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Trump administration officials led by Jared Kushner have spent this year drafting a proposal for Mideast peace. And they say they're going to present it very soon. And it's this moment that everyone's been waiting for, and there are all these rumors about what this peace plan might look like. But this whole peace plan appears to be at the very bottom of the list of the things that the two leaders are going to be discussing tomorrow. The White House and Netanyahu's office both put out statements about what they're going to be talking about. Peace is literally the last thing on the agenda.

MARTIN: That's Daniel Estrin, NPR's Jerusalem correspondent here with us in Washington, D.C. Daniel, thank you.

ESTRIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.