President Barack Obama has basically regarded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an instrumentality, and Tuesday’s joint press conference after their “make-up” meeting at the White House was no exception.
In general, Obama has treated Netanyahu as an instrumentality toward his own policy goal of creating a twenty-third Arab state and a second Palestinian state (in addition to Jordan), and Netanyahu — reversing lifelong opposition to Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza — has, since his key June 2009 speech, complied at least on the surface.
On Tuesday, though, Obama — whose rough treatment of Netanyahu got out of hand at their last meeting in March — needed Netanyahu for something else: refurbishing his “pro-Israel” credentials for the upcoming U.S. elections in November. Again, for Netanyahu, the junior partner, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
So not only Obama, but Netanyahu, too, ended up sounding the notes that could reassure Jewish supporters of the Democrats and disarm Republicans seeking to brand Obama as anti-Israel. The U.S.-Israeli bond is “unbreakable,” Obama said, and the meeting was “one more step in the extraordinary friendship between the U.S. and Israel, which has grown closer and closer as time goes on.”
Obama even added that “I’ve trusted Netanyahu since the first time I met him, before I was elected president. The press in Israel and the U.S. like to make up a story.”
Netanyahu chimed in by saying any rumors of troubled U.S.-Israeli relations were “dead wrong.”
Asked by a reporter about the imminent end of Netanyahu’s ten-month West Bank settlement freeze in September — seen as a likely point of friction — Obama skirted the issue, saying he hoped direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations would get started “well before” the freeze expires. Netanyahu — that is, the new, Obama-friendly Netanyahu, who often sounds little different than the dovish Israeli leaders he used to criticize — averred a similar desire, saying that “[Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas and I need to move to direct talks.”