By Kevin Liptak
CNN White House Producer
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the White House on Monday, it will be under clouds of controversy — both his own and those of his hosts.
Netanyahu and his inner circle are entangled in a series of corruption scandals back home that has put his political future in jeopardy. President Donald Trump and his campaign associates are themselves weathering an investigation into possible collusion with Russia.
Legally and politically, Netanyahu finds himself in a far more precarious position than Trump. But in at least one big way, the uncertainty and strife at the White House could intersect with Netanyahu’s visit: a central US interlocutor on Middle East peace, senior adviser Jared Kushner, has had his access to top-secret information yanked amid a crackdown on interim security clearances.
That decision came at the behest of chief of staff John Kelly, who wants to bring order to the system of accessing classified information at the White House. Multiple aides and people close to Kushner have insisted the downgrade to a “secret” clearance won’t affect his ability to work on Middle East issues. The visit from Netanyahu will be the first high-profile engagement for Kushner since he lost his “top secret” access.
It was already evident he would play a role in the talks with Netanyahu scheduled for Monday. A day before the Israeli leader arrived at the White House, Kushner paid him a visit at Blair House, the presidential guest quarters across Pennsylvania Avenue, along with other top administration officials.
Kushner has been leading efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal. The administration has hinted they are close to revealing a plan. But any accord will be colored by recent actions taken by Trump to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and begin moving the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.
Palestinian negotiators have refused to meet with the US following those pronouncements but that hasn’t stopped the US from moving forward with the plan. The State Department announced recently that the embassy move would formally take effect on May 14, a far speedier timeline than originally expected. Before leaving Israel, Netanyahu left open the possibility of Trump traveling to Jerusalem for the ribbon-cutting.
The logistics and political fallout from the decision was likely to arise during Trump’s midday talks with Netanyahu at the White House. Trump has said previously that Israel would need to make its own concessions in talks with Palestinians if any peace agreement can be reached.
Officials said Iran would also be a major subject of discussion between the two leaders. Trump has worked to alter the Obama-era nuclear agreement, which both he and Netanyahu have derided. European allies, which helped negotiate the accord, have resisted any efforts to alter its terms.
Tensions between Israel and Iran have increased in recent months, with the downing of an Israeli warplane by Syria and following the interception of an Iranian drone over Israel. Netanyahu was likely to ask for US assistance in preventing Iran from gaining a stronger foothold in Syria as the civil war there deteriorates.
In coming to Washington, Netanyahu is hoping to escape political turmoil back home. A warm welcome at the White House, and a speech to a receptive audience at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — AIPAC — conference, could distract momentarily from the graft allegations back home. Netanyahu was questioned “under caution” by police at his home on Friday, making him a suspect in three separate corruption investigations. His wife, Sara, who was simultaneously questioned at a different location, is also a suspect in one of the investigations.
Israeli police say they have enough evidence to indict Netanyahu on bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two cases, and the attorney general there is deciding whether to file charges, a process that could take months. White House officials have said its unlikely these issues arise during talks with Trump.
In a Facebook video posted shortly after the interrogations concluded on Friday, Netanyahu, speaking for himself and his wife, proclaimed their innocence, saying: “(I am) more certain than even there will be nothing.”
So far, Netanyahu has the support of his coalition partners who have said they will wait for th
By Kevin Liptak