President Trump congratulated Benjamin Netanyahu for what Trump called the long-serving Israeli prime minister’s probable victory in a close reelection contest, saying Wednesday that a Netanyahu victory increases the chances for a peace agreement.
“He’s been a great ally, and he’s a friend,” Trump said of Netanyahu, who campaigned for a fourth consecutive and fifth overall term on the strength of his bond with the U.S. leader.
“I’d like to congratulate him. That was a well-thought-out race, I can tell you,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House for a trip to Texas.
Netanyahu and centrist challenger Benny Gantz are virtually tied in unofficial results from Tuesday’s voting, but Netanyahu appears to have the far stronger chance of forming a government in Israel’s parliamentary system.
The Trump administration delayed release of a long-expected package of proposals to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until after the Israeli election, but no specific date has been set.
“The fact that Bibi won, I think we’ll see some pretty good action in terms of peace,” Trump said Wednesday, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “Everybody said, and I never made it a promise, ‘you can’t have peace in the Middle East with Israel and the Palestinians.’ But I think we have a chance, and I think now we have a better chance with Bibi having won.”
Trump did not elaborate, but an election victory is likely to strengthen Netanyahu’s hand in any negotiations, or in making new moves toward greater Israeli control in the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu made an 11th-hour campaign promise to annex portions of the West Bank, a move that would be broadly opposed around the world. It is unlikely that Netanyahu would have made such a pledge unless he were confident that he would be backed by the Trump administration.
Trump appeared to help Netanyahu during the campaign by endorsing Israeli control over the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War, and by announcing Monday that the United States will take new action against an elite Iranian military unit that threatens Israel.
Netanyahu told voters that he was responsible for both decisions and for Trump’s internationally controversial recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Netanyahu was also a bitter opponent of the international Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew last year.
As he flew to Texas on Wednesday, Trump tweeted a photo of Israelis celebrating after Netanyahu’s apparent victory. “Trump flags being waived at the Bibi @netanyahu VICTORY celebration last night,” Trump wrote, misspelling “waved.”