When Bibi met Barack
Comments on the interview from Times of Israel and Barak Ravid; news report on the Washington meeting.
President Obama and PM Netanyahu shake hands in the Oval Office on Monday, March 3, 2014. Seeking to keep a pair of delicate diplomatic efforts afloat, Obama will personally appeal to Netanyahu to move forward on peace talks with the Palestinians, while also trying to manage Israel’s deep suspicion of his pursuit of a nuclear accord with Iran. Caption and photo, AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais.
En route to his meeting at the White House, the PM and the rest of the world read that the president believes he’s leading Israel to wrack and ruin
By David Horovitz*, Times of Israel
March 3, 2014
Hello, Mr. Prime Minister. You’re attempting to maintain “a chronic situation” as regards the Palestinians. You’ve been pursuing “more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time.” There’ll come a point, you know, “where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices: Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank?… Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?” But other than that, Mr. Prime Minister, welcome to the White House.
Until he read the breaking news of President Obama’s earth-shattering interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have anticipated that Monday’s meeting was going to be one of his less confrontational and unpleasant sessions of frank, allied diplomacy with his good friend Barack.
Sure, the stakes were always going to be high: The president was going to be urging Netanyahu to assent to Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework proposal for continued peace talks. And the prime minister was going to be urging Obama to toughen his demands on Iran, to ensure that the ayatollahs are deprived of the wherewithal to build the nuclear weapons they swear they don’t want to build, just on the off chance that they might be lying.
But Netanyahu, his aides had long been indicating, was ready to accept the framework proposals — as a non-binding basis for further negotiations. So no need for confrontation there. And he must have had little hope that he was going to shift Obama’s stance on Iran, however powerful he believes his arguments to be. So not much point in confrontation there, either.
But then came that bombshell Bloomberg battering.
The timing could not have been any more deliberate — an assault on the prime minister’s policies delivered precisely as Netanyahu was flying in to meet with him, and on the first day, too, of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual tour de force conference across town.
At the very least, that might be considered bad manners, poor diplomatic protocol, a resounding preemptive slap in the face: I’ve just told the world you’re leading your country to wrack and ruin, Mr. Prime Minister. Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?
More substantively, the president’s comments reinforce years of grievance that have accumulated in Netanyahu’s circles and some distance beyond, to the effect that the president ignores the inconsistencies, duplicities and worse of the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas, while placing exaggerated blame for the failure of peace efforts at the door of the Israeli government.
As they read through the transcript of the interview, Netanyahu and his aides were doubtless bemoaning what they see as Obama’s obsession with settlements, to the exclusion of almost any other issue on which the Israelis and the Palestinians are deadlocked. They would certainly have been lamenting that the president’s public display of disaffection will hardly encourage the Palestinians to adopt more flexible positions on such other core issues as their demand for a “right of return” for millions of Palestinians to Israel. And they might have been wondering if some of the Obama ammunition had been fired precisely now as a mark of his displeasure with AIPAC, the irritating lobby that just won’t keep quiet on pressuring Iran.
Since even before he became president, Obama has made plain his conviction that Israel’s settlement enterprise is profoundly counterproductive for the Jewish state. Many Israelis share this belief. That Obama chose to highlight his concern in such ominous and pointed terms, going so far as to warn that it would become harder in the future for the US to protect Israel from the consequences of its misguided West Bank building, would suggest that he has all but despaired of Netanyahu’s willingness to rein in construction. Otherwise, surely, he would have held his fire, and first consulted face-to-face with the prime minister.
For one thing is certain, the president’s resort to a newspaper interview on the eve of their talks to issue near-apocalyptic warnings about the disaster Netanyahu risks bringing upon Israel is just about the last thing likely to bolster the prime minister’s confidence in their alliance, and just about the last thing likely to encourage Netanyahu to further alienate his hawkish home base by taking steps such as halting building outside the settlement blocs.
It will be particularly interesting now to see what platitudes the pair can manage when they invite in the press for the traditional, brief Q&A session at the White House on Monday. Doubtless they’ll come up with something. But the fact is that Obama chose to have his real say about Netanyahu before the prime minister had arrived, and it constituted a brutal political assault. Other than that, Mr. Prime Minister, how are you enjoying Washington, DC?
* This David Horowitz is the British-born Israeli journalist, author and speaker who is the founding editor of The Times of Israel that launched in February 2012. Previously he was the editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post. No relation to the American conservative and ex-marxist who zealously pursues leftists through the David Horowitz Freedom Center, FrontPage Magazine, and Discover the Networks all of which he directs.
U.S. president already sent Netanyahu the message via the Bloomberg interview, and preferred to avoid a public confrontation at this time.
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz
March 04, 2014
WASHINGTON – It was tough not to notice the significant differences between U.S. President Barack Obama’s withering criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Bloomberg interview published on Sunday, and the praise he heaped on the Israeli leader in front of the cameras at the White House a mere 24 hours later.
Netanyahu was surprised when he landed here Sunday and immediately had to face the headlines about Obama’s comments. That’s not how he expected his U.S. visit to begin. Over the last few days, his advisers have been doing what they can to convey a sense of calm, going as far as to say they were not expecting any U.S. pressure over the Palestinian issue.
All that was missing was someone leaping out from behind a bush and shouting, “You’re on ‘Candid Camera’!” It was lucky for the prime minister that the people behind the cameras at Andrews Air Force Base were employees of Israel’s Government Press Office.
So what happened in the intervening 24 hours that prompted Obama to soften his tone?
One likely explanation is that the interview with Goldberg actually took place on Thursday, before the escalation of the Ukraine crisis. By the time it was published on Sunday, there were thousands of Russian soldiers in the Crimea. If Obama had known the turn events there would take, he might have put off his frontal assault on Netanyahu until later.
But the main reason for the difference in tone is Netanyahu’s response to the Obama interview. The prime minister and his advisers really didn’t like Obama’s comments, to say the least, and there might have been angry messages that made their way to the White House. Obama, who had already gotten what he wanted and sent the message he intended to send to Netanyahu via the interview, figured the time had come to lower the volume and not get into a public confrontation with the Israeli premier in front of the cameras.
But the change in Obama’s comments is one of style more than substance. When the photographers and the reporters left the room, Netanyahu met with the Obama behind the Bloomberg interview. The impression one gets is that Obama’s patience for the exhausting negotiations conducted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry over the framework agreement is running out.
The recent Israeli report indicating the largest surge of settlement construction in a decade provides justification for Obama’s comment that settlement expansion has been “aggressive.” Netanyahu knows this is Israel’s Achilles’ heel, but isn’t doing anything about it because he fears the political influence of the settler lobby.
Netanyahu did show some flexibility, but has yet to take the steps that will show the international community and the Palestinians that he is serious. This was hinted at when Obama said in front of the cameras that Netanyahu held productive talks with Kerry on the Palestinian issue. Kerry, who was standing two meters away, bent down to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Apparently thinking that no one could hear him, he said cynically: “Productive?!”
By Julie Pace, White House Correspondent, AP
March 03, 2014
WASHINGTON — Seeking to salvage an elusive Middle East peace plan, President Barack Obama pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday to make the “tough decisions” needed to move forward on talks with the Palestinians.
But facing a U.S.-imposed April deadline, the Israeli leader declared pessimistically that, “Israel has been doing its part and, I regret to say, the Palestinians have not.” Netanyahu’s comments underscored the slim prospects of reaching an agreement to the long-running conflict, despite a robust effort led by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Obama and Netanyahu spoke before an Oval Office meeting on a snowy Monday in Washington. The meeting marked a more direct foray into the peace negotiations by Obama, who will also meet at the White House later this month with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“It is still possible to create two states, a Jewish state of Israel and a state of Palestine, with people living side by side in peace and security,” Obama said. “But it’s difficult. It requires compromise on all sides.”
While the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu has improved after early tensions, the two leaders still grapple with deep differences, particularly on Iran. Israel sees Iran’s nuclear program as an existential threat and fears Tehran is using U.S.-led negotiations to stall while it builds a bomb.
Obama, seeking to reassure Netanyahu, affirmed his “absolute commitment that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Netanyahu insisted Monday that Iran must suspend all uranium enrichment, though any final deal between the international community and Iran would likely leave the Islamic republic with a small enrichment capacity.
“No country has a greater stake in this,” said Netanyahu, who is in Washington to speak at the annual meeting of AIPAC, the largest pro-Israel lobby.
Obama, who has twice addressed the conference, is not speaking this year, though Kerry was scheduled to speak Monday night.
In excerpts released ahead of his speech, Kerry outlined what he called “the endgame” in the peace negotiations. He said a peace deal must include security arrangements that leave Israel more secure, mutual recognition of states for the Jewish and Palestinian people, an end to all conflict, a just solution for Palestinian refugees, and an resolution “that finally allows Jerusalem to live up to its name as the city of peace.”
Kerry has made nearly a dozen trips to the region over the past year and is seeking to get both sides to sign a framework by the end of April that would serve as a guide for negotiations on a permanent solution to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. The framework aims to address the core issues in the dispute, including borders between Israel and a future Palestine, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of the holy city of Jerusalem.
Even as Obama and Netanyahu met, developments in the Middle East underscored the difficulties in settling the intractable conflict.
New Israeli housing statistics showed that Israel began building more than twice as many West Bank settlement homes in 2013 than it did the previous year. The Palestinians consider settlements built on territories captured by Israel in 1967 to be illegal and an obstacle to peace.
In Gaza, meanwhile, Israel launched an airstrike that killed a Palestinian militant, officials and his family said.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — the Israeli captured in 1967 — for an independent state. They have demanded that Israel agree to base the final borders with a future Palestine on the pre-1967 lines, with small land swaps that would allow Israel to keep some of the Jewish settlements it has built in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Netanyahu has refused to recognize the 1967 lines as a starting point. He wants to retain an Israeli presence in a strategic area of the West Bank along the border with Jordan and keep large blocs of settlements closest to Israel. He has given no indication as to how much territory he is willing to cede, and he has rejected any division of east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.
Netanyahu has also demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. The Palestinians reject this out of hand, saying it would undermine the rights of displaced Palestinian refugees who claim properties in what is now Israel as well as the rights of Israel’s Arab minority.
The Palestinians fear the emerging American proposal will largely side with Israel, particularly on the Jewish state, and by including only a vague mention of Palestinian “aspirations” in Jerusalem, rather than a specific reference to east Jerusalem.