Obama, Netanyahu make show of mending US-Israeli ties
President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed US-Israeli closeness after a White House meeting Tuesday. But strains remain over Iran and the peace process.
Tel Aviv, Israel
Are Israeli-US ties on the mend? After the worst diplomatic crisis in recent memory earlier this year, President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used a White House summit Tuesday to demonstrate warmth and a commitment to continuing the “special” ties between the allies.Skip to next paragraph
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But in Israel, where many fault the Obama administration for the estrangement between the two sides and a chilly reception during the prime minister’s last visit in March, there is uncertainty as to whether the rapport in Washington will translate into a more harmonious foreign policy.
“Israelis are relieved to learn that the administration feels it’s necessary to show a friendlier face when Netanyahu is in town,” says Shmuel Rosner, a columnist for the Jerusalem Post. But “I don’t think Israelis were convinced that everything that Americans officials and Netanyahu said was the whole truth. They all realize this was some kind of a show."
Divided over peace process
Though the two administrations have been at odds over how to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and how to confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions, President Obama insisted the differences had been exaggerated by the American and Israeli media.
Both leaders smiling, Obama responded to reporters questions about the leaders’ chilly relationship by saying, “I’ve trusted Prime Minister Netanyahu since I met him” – a compliment that many Israelis might find ironic because of the domestic credibility deficit often ascribed to the prime minister by politicians and analysts. The summit was complemented by a meeting between First Lady Michelle Obama and Netanyahu’s wife, Sara.
“They really bent over backwards to make it seem like business as usual,” says Mitchell Barak, who runs the Israeli polling firm, Keevoon. “But it doesn’t lend credibility when the leaders don’t acknowledge that there was a crisis and [pretend that] everything was fine all along... Israelis already have a problem with credibility of politicians.”
Still, Tuesday was a striking contrast to Netanyahu’s last White House visit, when, amid a flare-up over new Israeli building in East Jerusalem, the only press coverage comprised leaked anecdotes about how the president left Netanyahu alone while he retired to eat dinner.