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Obama and Netanyahu Make Nice

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu went to extraordinary lengths today to showed they had made up, possibly even kissed too, explaining to the world and U.S. Jewish voters that the relationship between Israel and the United States . . . is just wonderful.

Obama showed unprecedented rudeness  to a foreign leader – that I’ve seen covering the White House anyway – last time Netanyahu dropped by, cutting short his meetings with him and refusing to take a picture.  This time, he walked it all back emphatically.

A few of Obama’s quotes:

I just completed an excellent one-on-one discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I want to welcome him back to the White House.

So I just want to say, once again, that I thought the discussion that we had was excellent.

I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he’s willing to take risks for peace.

And so on, and so forth.

Obama Netanyahu
Because your kiss - your kiss is what I miss!

Asked by an Israeli reporter if he regretted that in the past year he had “distanced yourself from Israel and gave a cold shoulder to the prime minister,” – all of which is true, Obama got prickly:

“Well, let me first of all say that the premise of your question was wrong, and I entirely disagree with it,” he said.

Obama added that “what I have consistently shared with him is my interest in working with him, not at cross purposes.”

As opposed to the usual method of working together at cross purposes. Huh?

Netanyahu was more measured than the effusive Obama, but he too was up for the happy talk:

Here I’ll have to paraphrase Mark Twain, that the reports about the demise of the special U.S.-Israel relationship aren’t just premature, they’re just flat wrong.

There is a — there’s a depth and richness of this relationship that is expressed every day. Our teams talk. We don’t make it public. The only thing that’s public is that you can have differences on occasion in the best of families and the closest of families. That comes out public and sometimes in a twisted way too.

Netanyahu was particularly focused on Iran’s nuclear weapons quest, which is of some concern to Israel because, well, Iran has said it intends to use the weapon against Israel.

While trying to sound supportive of the sanctions route, he made clear that one should not assume this will be enough.

I think the latest sanctions adopted by the U.N. create illegitimacy or create de-legitimization for Iran’s nuclear program, and that is important. I think the sanctions the president signed the other day actually have teeth. They bite. The question is how much do you need to bite is something I cannot answer now, but if other nations adopted similar sanctions, that would increase the effect.

Obama tiptoed around the issue of whether he is demanding that Israel extend its settlement freeze, offering up some careful diplomaticese that suggested he still wants this.

I do think that there are a range of confidence-building measures that can be taken by all sides that improve the prospects of a successful negotiation.

And, interestingly, from the White House reporters’ pool report by Christi Parsons of the Chicago Tribune, this final show of respect:

At 1:56 pm, the president and prime minister emerged from the Oval Office and walked toward the motorcade, talking as they went. Obama saw Netanyahu into a black limo, gave him a final wave and waited until the motorcade pulled away.

All in all, everyone achieved their mutual goal of expressing that the U.S.-Israeli bond – and even the Barack-Bibi bond – is tight, whatever the truth of the matter.

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2 Responses to Obama and Netanyahu Make Nice

  1. We’ll see if this “kiss and make up” session betters bilateral ties or proves to be a brief diplomatic thaw to an otherwise frosty relationship when the settlement freeze ends in September.

    Netanyahu is in a catch-22 position. Bibi orders an extension and he’ll be politically hamstrung at home by his own right-wing base. On the other hand, if the freeze is allowed to lapse any talks with the Palestinians that might be underway at the time would collaspe. This leads to Israel taking the blame and once again being under the gun from the international community for another freeze.

    Bibi’s political track record would indicate he’ll let it lapse and take the heat. He could do so by calculating that Obama wouldn’t risk losing Jewish votes over a showdown so close to the mid-year elections. Netanyahu is also cognizant that Congress (at AIPAC’s urging) would comes to his defense if Obama threatened to treat Israel like British Petroleum.

    Then again, this scenario might not play out. If Obama made it clear in their private meeting that either the elections or Congress would have no effect on U.S. policy maybe Netanyahu might think twice. The president might have done just that. If you look at the video footage of the two of them walking over to the motorcade, you’ll notice Bibi is all smiles when they shake hands and offers his goodbye. Obama on the other hand looked more stern, in effect saying to the prime minister, “Remember what I said, try me in Sept. and I’ll know who’s ass to kick.”

    • That’s great analysis. Another thing to consider is, as Netanyahu made clear, what Israel is really concerned about is Iran. I’m wondering if U.S. reaction to a possible Israeli strike enters into the equation when the Israeli posture on the settlement freeze is discussed.