Obama-Netanyahu: Stop having these meetings

October 2, 2014

The Washington Post rightly called it “another awkward Obama-Netanyahu meeting”. The ritual is a bit tired, but we keep finding ourselves surprised by the inability of the parties to keep their differences to themselves and refrain from airing the grievances. 5 very short comments:

1. The Obama administration kept attempting to belittle Netanyahu in recent days. He wanted to talk grand themes – ISIS and Iran, radicalism and the nuclear threat – the Obama team kept sending him back to the smaller issues – Hamas and the peace process, Israel and the Palestinians. In essence they were telling him: leave the region to us, and deal with your own backyard. Netanyahu does not see himself as the convenience store shopkeeper in a US shopping mall. He wants to have a voice when it comes to bigger things as well.

2. We don't really know if in the room the conversation was really ‘first of all about Iran’ or ‘first of all about Gaza’. It also doesn't much matter. Both issues needed to be discussed.

3. Netanyahu wanted two things from Obama: One is a robust attempt to stop Iran – that is, for the US not to sign a “bad deal” with Iran because of the fight against ISIS or because of other reasons. The second thing is to have the backing of the US in the expected battle against Mahmoud Abbas' diplomatic war against Israel in international forums. Netanyahu is right to assume that he has a strong case in both cases, not just when it comes to Israeli interests – he believes that the US also has a profound interest in both blocking Iran and blocking the type of campaign that Abbas is mounting. The problem is – and always was – that what seems convincing to Netanyahu does not always seem convincing to Obama.

4. That the eruption of conflict over the minor issue of an old Jerusalem construction plan surprised so many – Netanyahu included – is mostly a testimony to the poor level of intimacy between the two administrations. As a visit such as Netanyahu's is prepared by two parties who want it to succeed, such flare-ups should be rare.

5. Remember last week, when we asked our Israel Factor panel of experts if they expect the Obama-Netanyahu relationship to improve? They said no by giving such a scenario a score of 1.3 out of 5. I wonder how low it could still go. I also wonder if it would not be a good idea for the two leaders to keep the number of future meetings between them to a minimum. Maybe it would be better not have meetings at all? (it is not that easy, of course; not having meetings is going to send a very troubling message to Israel's enemies.)

I invite you to also read – or reread – my two previous assessments from earlier this week: of Abbas' UN speech and plan for the future, and that of Netanyahu's speech and its likelihood of having a positive impact.

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