Why Netanyahu Was Smart To Cancel Obama Meeting


Despite proclamations to the contrary, it's almost certain Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a U.S. visit -- and a face-to-face meeting with President Barack Obama -- because there was nothing to be gained.

To say Obama and Netanyahu haven't gotten along would be an understatement.

On almost every major policy issue impacting both Israel and the U.S., the two leaders have disagreed. But the acrimony goes back a long way, to when President Obama was candidate Obama.

"Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people," Obama told supporters during a low-key event in 2007, before he was considered a serious threat to the front-runner at the time, Hillary Clinton.

The comment, reported at the time by the Des Moines Register, was roundly condemned by Israeli leaders, Israeli lobbyists in the U.S., and even fellow Democrats, reported The Associated Press. It wasn't the first time Obama had expressed sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians.

As Obama the senator became Obama the president, and both sides realized they'd have to work with each other, U.S. and Israeli officials tried to smooth things over. It worked, for a time -- Obama made some conciliatory noises, reaffirmed U.S. support for Israel's safety and sovereignty, and dropped talk about Palestinian suffering in favor of talk about Palestinian responsibility in the peace process.

Since then, it's been a rocky road.

Every year, several times a year, like clockwork, the Obama administration has warned Israel about actions that impede any hope of peace with the Palestinians. Obama has warned Israel against building "settlements" in disputed areas of East Jerusalem. Without sugar-coating the pill, he's said plainly in interviews that Israel's settlement policies make it more difficult for the U.S. to defend the Jewish state in the United Nations. As Obama entered the last two years of his presidency, he continued to warn Netanyahu and Israel that time was running out on a two-state solution.

Then there's the historic and hard-won agreement on nuclear weapons between the U.S., Iran, and a small contingent of world powers. It offered a concrete solution to the long-simmering problem of a potentially nuclear Iran, and it's one of the key accomplishments Obama hopes will help define his legacy as historians judge his presidency through the lens of time.

To say that Netanyahu opposed the deal at every stage of the process would be an understatement. It remains a major sore point in relations between Obama and the Israeli prime minister.

So when Israeli media reported Netanyahu would cancel a planned visit to the U.S., and a March 19 sit-down with Obama, Netanyahu took the polite way out and said he didn't want to influence American presidential primaries, according to a Reuters report.

Of course, no one believes that excuse. As The Washington Post's Daniel Drezner put it, "it would take an archaeologist to unearth the layers of contempt that the Obama White House and Netanyahu’s Office of the Prime Minister feel toward each other."

As Drezner notes, concerns about meddling in U.S. politics didn't keep Netanyahu away in 2012, nor did it keep him from hosting Mitt Romney, the GOP's presidential candidate at the time, in Israel.

As Obama serves out his remaining lame duck days, Netanyahu probably felt it was better to wait it out. With the current crop of presidential hopefuls all expressing complete support for Israel, he can't go wrong. Come Inauguration Day -- Jan. 20, 2017 -- Netanyahu will find a more sympathetic ear, regardless of who wins the election.

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Sources: Reuters (2), The Washington Post, The Atlantic, AP via MSNBC / Photo credit: Utenriksdepartementet UD/Flickr

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