Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won high marks from most for generally holding his own in Monday’s meeting with US President Barack Obama.
The White House talks were expected to be tense, as both leaders came in with divergent views regarding the creation of a Palestinian state, how to deal with the Iran nuclear crisis, and the linkage between the two issues.
In the post-meeting press conference, Netanyahu maintained his refusal to publicly endorse the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state, but repeated his long-held view that Israel has no desire to rule over millions of hostile Arabs.
Obama made the difference between his and Netanyahu’s views clear by telling reporters that his government will push hard for the birth of “Palestine,” and urging Netanyahu to grasp hold of this “historic opportunity.”
He also appeared to patronize Netanyahu by saying he knew the Israeli leader would eventually “rise to the occasion.”
In another perceived slight, Obama cooly noted that Netanyahu had been “very vocal in his concerns” regarding Iran, but insisted that he will not put a timetable on what have so far been pointless diplomatic efforts to halt Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear arms.
Obama was most adamant in his refusal to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iran nuclear crisis as separate issues. He flatly rejected Netanyahu’s argument that if there is any link at all between the two issues, it is that Israel cannot possibly conclude a final status peace deal with the Palestinians while Iran is building nuclear bombs and emboldening Palestinian terror groups.
“If there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way,” Obama said. “To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians - between the Palestinians and the Israelis - then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with the potential Iranian threat.”
The one point of agreement between the two was Obama’s intention to push more Arab nations to directly join Israeli-Arab peace talks. The president indicated that he will unveil a new regional peace initiative when he visits Cairo next month.
Political spin doctors in both Washington and Jerusalem immediately went to work painting the meeting as a relaxed and friendly encounter, though the substance of what the two leaders told the press bespoke a far different reality beneath the surface.