Why Israel's Netanyahu doesn't fully trust Obama on Iran
Part of the friction comes from Obama making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority early on, putting off Netanyahu's demands for urgent action on the Iran nuclear program.
Despite declarations of a strong alliance between the US and Israel at this year's AIPAC conference, it hasn’t eliminated the bad blood simmering not far below the surface of meetings between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the past three years.Skip to next paragraph
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This week's installment – focused almost entirely on Iran rather than the Palestinian conflict – provided some jabs: In an address Sunday, Obama criticized the saber-rattling of Israeli leaders against Iran as counterproductive, while Mr. Netanyahu on Monday took pains to assert Israel’s right to decide on its own how to defend itself.
While the clashes have ranged from issues of personality, to tactics on the peace process, to protocol snubs, there seems to be a consensus among Israeli observers that tension is primarily rooted in a clash of political outlook. It may not be in Netanyahu’s conservative DNA to have stable ties with a liberal like Obama.
"If he were in the US, Benjamin Netanyahu would serve as a Republican senator," says Shimon Shiffer, a political commentator for the daily Yediot Ahronot newspaper. "[Netanyahu] would be attached to Newt Gingrich even if there was no Sheldon Adelson," the American Jewish businessman who backs both politicians.
Friction from the beginning
The two leaders were elected within months of each other at the end of 2008 and early 2009; there was friction almost immediately.
Israelis felt snubbed when Obama passed over Jerusalem to visit Muslim capitals around the Middle East. They were also uncomfortable with the new US president’s embrace of Arab public opinion while distancing himself from the policies of President George W. Bush, who was seen as an emphatically pro-Israel president.
But they were even more put out when Obama administration officials began pushing Netanyahu for a freeze in Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, putting him into a political hot seat at home and emboldening Palestinian leaders to boost their demands of Israel.
Within months, Netanyahu was forced to declare support for a two-state solution and announce a moratorium on settlement building, something no Israeli prime minister had ever done. The Israeli press reported that some in Netanyahu’s circles became convinced that Obama was trying to sway public opinion in Israel against him to undermine Israel’s governing coalition.