Trump set for star turn in Netanyahu re-election campaign | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 25, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, March 25, 2019

Trump set for star turn in Netanyahu re-election campaign

US President Donald Trump's role in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's electoral campaign gets its star turn this week when the two allies meet in Washington ahead of Israeli polls.

The billionaire president has already been featured on giant campaign billboards in Israel shaking hands and smiling with Netanyahu, and the premier has shared video of Trump calling him "strong" and a "winner".

But Trump's support has gone far beyond photos and words as Netanyahu fights a tough re-election battle ahead of April 9 polls while under threat of indictment for corruption.

On Thursday, after new opinion polls showed Netanyahu losing ground to his electoral rivals, Trump took to his beloved Twitter account to present the Israeli leader with what many analysts saw as a campaign gift.

Again breaking with longstanding international consensus, Trump said "it is time" to accept Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which it seized from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The tweet granted Netanyahu exactly what he had been pushing for without asking for anything in return, at least publicly.

Netanyahu pronounced it a Purim "miracle" -- referring to the Jewish holiday Israel was celebrating the same day -- and phoned Trump to tell him he had "made history".

But Trump said it had nothing to do with Israeli politics.

"I wouldn't even know about that," he told Fox Business Network.

Trump's tweet was, however, only one of two boosts to Netanyahu's campaign from the White House the same day.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, visiting Jerusalem at the same time, also denied politics played a role in his trip to the Western Wall alongside Netanyahu earlier Thursday.

It was the first time such a high-ranking American official visited one of the holiest sites in Judaism located in mainly Palestinian east Jerusalem, with an Israeli premier.

It offered Netanyahu a prime pre-election photo opportunity.

Further surprises may be in store this week, which features two meetings between Netanyahu and Trump at the White House: a "working meeting" on Monday and a dinner on Tuesday.

The first comes the same day Netanyahu's main electoral opponent, former military chief Benny Gantz, addresses the annual conference in Washington of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Netanyahu speaks at the pro-Israel lobby on Tuesday.

Trump relies on pro-Israel evangelical Christians in the United States as part of his electoral base and has moved US policy firmly in Israel's favour -- most notably by declaring Jerusalem Israel's capital in 2017.

But Netanyahu has also deployed his considerable powers of persuasion to charm the mercurial president he calls his "friend".

"Trump is very affected by personal things, and Bibi's stroked him a lot," said Jonathan Rynhold, political science professor at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, using Netanyahu's nickname.

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