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Trump and Netanyahu at the White House. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he and President Trump discussed the possibilities of a U.S-Israel defense treaty as well as Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank in their call last night.

Why it matters: This is mostly about domestic political positioning for Netanyahu as he and opposition politician Benny Gantz stare down a Dec. 11 deadline to form a government. Netanyahu gave the impression that Trump was favorably disposed toward both goals and called on Gantz to form a unity government to accomplish them.

Between the lines: If neither Netanyahu nor Gantz can get 61 members of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to support their government, Israel will have its third elections in less than a year. Both Gantz and Netanyahu, who is facing three corruption indictments, blame the other for the impasse.

Both ideas are highly controversial.

  • Unilateral annexation of the Jordan Valley could kill any peace efforts for the foreseeable future, and the entire international community is against it.
  • The defense treaty idea was, until today, rejected by most of the Israeli and U.S. defense establishments and would have big military and diplomatic consequences.

It is still unclear what Trump told Netanyahu on either topic. The White House issued a short readout of the call saying the leaders discussed Iran and the wider situation in the Middle East.

  • The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Netanyahu's characterization of the call.
  • In September, the White House only said its position on Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank hadn't changed and urged Netanyahu not to jeopardize Trump's long-awaited peace plan.
  • Netanyahu previously raised the defense treaty issue with Trump in a call days after Israel's September election. After the call, Trump tweeted that he would be happy to discuss the issue once Israel had a new government.

A senior official from Gantz's Blue and White party called Netanyahu’s Jordan Valley annexation remarks “election spin,” adding that Netanyahu hasn't taken that step in 14 years as prime minister.

  • “Blue and White supports the annexation of the Jordan valley only as part of a peace agreement but not unilaterally," the official said.
  • Later, Gantz issued a statement rejecting Netanyahu’s proposal of a defense treaty with the U.S, claiming it could limit the Israeli military's freedom of operation.

The latest: Netanyahu wanted to see Trump this week in London on the sidelines of the NATO summit but was politely rejected by the U.K. government, which said it could not host him due to logistical difficulties, taking into consideration that Israel isn’t a member of NATO.

  • Instead, Netanyahu wants to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later this week in Lisbon, Portugal.

Go deeper: Inside Netanyahu's fight for survival

Go deeper

9 mins ago - World

Jimmy Lai among Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders sentenced to prison

Students standing under a banner during a flag raising ceremony on the first annual National Security Education Day in Hong Kong. Photo: Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A Hong Kong court sentenced a group of pro-democracy activists to up to 18 months in prison Friday for organizing a massive unauthorized protest in August 2019 that drew an estimated 1.7 million people, AP reports.

Why it matters: Critics say the sentences send the message that even peaceful pro-democracy activism will be severely punished. They mark a continuation of Beijing's overhaul of Hong Kong's political structure, designed to crack down opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.

Local news moves to the inbox

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A slew of new companies are launching platforms for local newsletters, a shift that could help finally bring the local news industry into the digital era.

Driving the news: Substack, the email publishing platform for independent journalists, on Thursday announced a new local news platform.

J&J vaccine pause hurts its reputation

Reproduced from Economist/YouGov poll; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans' confidence in the safety of Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine took a big dip this week after the pause in its use, per new YouGov polling, even though the risk of blood clots following the shot is extremely low, if it exists at all.

Why it matters: For the majority of people, particularly high-risk Americans, getting the J&J shot is almost certainly less dangerous than remaining vulnerable to the coronavirus.

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