Obama-Netanyahu tensions: Not as bad as 5 other US-Israel low points

Will US-Israel relations fray over Iran? Not likely – they've seen worse. 

5. 2010: Settlement flap during Biden visit

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens as President Obama speaks during their meeting in March, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.

Despite the Oslo Accords, however, the population of Israeli settlements in the West Bank nearly tripled over the next two decades – from 115,000 to more than 300,000 – and the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem grew to more than 200,000.

Building in both areas, which Israel captured in the 1967 war, is considered illegal under international law and many see it as prejudicing an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

When President Obama took office in 2009, his administration called for a full settlement freeze. But in an incident widely seen as Israel thumbing its nose at that demand, Israeli officials announced approval for 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden in March 2010.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton scolded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a 43-minute phone call about the "insult" caused to Biden. While Congress gave Mr. Netanyahu a warm welcome when he arrived in Washington the next week, the White House departed from protocol and refused to allow photo ops or issue statements about his visit. 

According to one account, Obama curtly presented Netanyahu with a list of demands and when he stalled, the American president abruptly left to have dinner with his family.

The next month, it was reported that Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, told Israeli consul generals on a conference call that relations between the two countries were at a 35-year low. Ambassador Oren denied having made that remark, however, and both sides seemed to make an effort to smooth out the relationship.

While differing timetables over Iran have brought US-Israel tensions back to the fore in recent months, much of that has been attributed to personality differences and election campaigning rather than a fundamental breakdown in ties. Obama is on the homestretch of his reelection campaign, and Netanyahu is expected to announce early elections before the end of the year.

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