Obama treatment of Netanyahu even shabbier than previously reportedPresident Obama's treatment of Prime Minister Netanyahu was even shabbier than has been previously reported according to an account in the Times of London (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
For a head of state to visit the White House and not pose for photographers is rare. For a key ally to be left to his own devices while the President withdraws to have dinner in private was, until this week, unheard of.The White House is not disputing the account of what happened in Washington - apparently Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs all but confirmed it today.
Yet that is how Binyamin Netanyahu was treated by President Obama on Tuesday night, according to Israeli reports on a trip seen in Jerusalem tonight as a disastrous humiliation.
After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on Jewish settlements, Mr Obama walked out of his meeting with Mr Netanyahu but invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisors and “let me know if there is anything new”, a US congressman who spoke to the Prime Minister said today.
“It was awful,” the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House phone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”.
Left to talk among themselves, Mr Netanyahu and his aides retreated to the Roosevelt Room. He later spent a further half-hour with Mr Obama and extended his stay for a day of emergency talks aimed at restarting peace negotiations, but left last night with no official statement from either side. He returns to Israel dangerously isolated after what Israeli media have called a White House ambush for which he is largely to blame.
But before everyone assumes that Israel is blaming Netanyahu for what happened, please remember that the Israeli media hates Netanyahu and most of them cannot be trusted to give an objective account of who is at fault. The quote that is being thrown around the most is this one:
“The Prime Minister leaves America disgraced, isolated and altogether weaker than when he came,” the Israeli daily Ha'aretz said.But Haaretz is known as Israel's most Leftist newspaper - just last week they distorted a poll to try to make it show that Israelis love Obama. And that quote actually came from an opinion column (and not a news story - although in Israel it's hard to tell the difference) by Aluf Benn, one of the paper's most Leftist writers, who last summer urged Obama to go over Netanyahu's head and appeal directly to Israelis (Obama sent Biden here instead - he refuses to come himself). My sense is that while Israelis are upset about what happened, they are unified on Jerusalem, and that it's Obama who is being seen as mostly to blame when it comes to the substance of the issues.
The Times continues:
In their meeting Mr Obama set out a number of expectations that Israel was to satisfy if it wanted to end the crisis, Israeli sources said. These included an extension of the freeze on Jewish settlement growth beyond the 10-month deadline next September, an end to Israeli building projects in east Jerusalem, and even a withdrawal of Israeli forces to positions that they held before the Second Intifada in September 2000, after which they re-occupied most of the West Bank.I guess we're just going to have a crisis for the next three years. It's possible that the freeze will be extended but Netanyahu cannot even consider agreeing to that unless negotiations are going. There won't be an end to Jewish building projects in 'east' Jerusalem. He might give on projects in predominantly Arab neighborhoods (although the Shepherd Hotel project that caused all the fuss and which is in a predominantly Arab neighborhood isn't his to give - it's private), but most Israelis don't want him to give on Ramat Shlomo (for example) or other predominantly Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. And a withdrawal of forces is out of the question unless a lot of other things happen first.
Mr Obama then suggested that Mr Netanyahu and his staff stay on at the White House to consider his proposals, so that if he changed his mind he could inform the President right away. “I’m still around,” the Yediot Ahronot daily quoted Mr Obama saying. “Let me know if there is anything new.”They should have walked out immediately and left Obama the embassy phone number. I did something like what they did once. It's a mistake. You have to stand up for yourself.
With the atmosphere so soured by the end of the evening, the Israelis decided that they could not trust the phone line they had been lent. Mr Netanyahu retired with his defence minister, Ehud Barak, to the Israeli Embassy to ensure the Americans were not listening in.
Netanyahu made other mistakes too:
Newspaper reports recounted how Mr Netanyahu looked “excessively concerned and upset” as he pulled out a flow chart to show Mr Obama how Jerusalem planning permission worked and how he could not have known of the announcement that hundreds more homes were to be built just as Mr Biden arrived in Jerusalem.Irrelevant. Spilled milk. Water under the bridge. You're the Prime Minister, and if you didn't know, you should have known. That doesn't excuse the way Obama treated him, but who the hell is advising Bibi to focus on details like that rather than the big picture?
The meeting came barely a day after Mr Obama’s landmark health reform victory. Israel had calculated that he would be too tied up with domestic issues ahead of the mid-term elections to focus seriously on the Middle East.Stupid. You ALWAYS come to meetings like that prepared. Whoever made that calculation ought to be fired.
Bottom line: No excuse for the shabby manner in which Obama treated Netanyahu, on the substance Obama is trying to dictate to Netanyahu and ought to be resisted, trying to meet with Obama in Washington was probably a mistake, and the next time Bibi meets with anyone from the American government he must be prepared and not assume that they won't pay attention.
UPDATE 3:37 AM
London's Daily Telegraph has the story as follows (fairly similar but with a few more details).
The snub marked a fresh low in US-Israeli relations and appeared designed to show Mr Netanyahu how low his stock had fallen in Washington after he refused to back down in a row over Jewish construction in east Jerusalem.The Telegraph also reports that Obama turned down an Israeli request to issue a joint statement.
The Israeli prime minister arrived at the White House on Tuesday evening brimming with confidence that the worst of the crisis in his country's relationship with the United States was over.
Over the previous two days, he had been feted by senior Republicans and greeted warmly by members of Congress. He had also received a standing ovation from the American Israel Public Affairs Affairs Committee, one of the most influential lobby groups in the United States.
But Mr Obama was less inclined to be so conciliatory. He immediately presented Mr Netanyahu with a list of 13 demands designed both to the end the feud with his administration and to build Palestinian confidence ahead of the resumption of peace talks. Key among those demands was a previously-made call to halt all new settlement construction in east Jerusalem.
When the Israeli prime minister stalled, Mr Obama rose from his seat declaring: "I'm going to the residential wing to have dinner with Michelle and the girls."
As he left, Mr Netanyahu was told to consider the error of his ways. "I'm still around," Mr Obama is quoted by Israel's Yediot Ahronot newspaper as having said. "Let me know if there is anything new."