The White House said it was “surprised” to learn on Monday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined President Obama’s offer to meet on March 18 in Washington, D.C. Given the bad blood between the two, this decision should not be surprising at all.
An Obama aide said that Netanyahu’s office had requested a meeting on March 17 or 18, and that the White House offered March 18, just a few days before Obama’s planned trip to Cuba. “We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting, and we were surprised to first learn via media reports that the prime minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price told CNN. “Reports that we were not able to accommodate the Prime Minister’s schedule are false.”
On Tuesday, Netanyahu’s office wrote that Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said “there was a high probability that the Prime Minister will not make it to Washington.”
The visit was scheduled during the annual conference of the pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). On Monday, the prime minister’s office announced Netanyahu would deliver remarks to the conference by video, rather than in person.
The Prime Minister decided not to travel to Washington at this time, at the height of the U.S. primary elections….The Prime Minister appreciates the willingness of President Obama to meet with him in Washington on the Friday before the conference, before the President’s trip to Cuba.
A few Republican presidential candidates are expected to attend the conference, although the AIPAC website does not list any of the four still in the race as confirmed speakers. Both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have hit frontrunner Donald Trump over his weak stance on Israel, declaring that they will unapologetically champion the U.S. ally.
Netanyahu will meet Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday in Jerusalem, however. Biden is taking a tour of the Middle East, stopping in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Amman, Jerusalem, and the West Bank.
The relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu could charitably be described as rocky, although this would likely be a large understatement. Last year, the Israeli official lobbied against Obama’s disastrous Iran deal in Washington, addressing the Republican House of Representatives. During that visit, the White House declined to schedule a meeting, saying Netanyahu broke protocol by traveling to the U.S. capitol without consulting the Obama administration.
When the two met in November, Obama acknowledged the bad blood over Iran. Laughably, he declared:
It is not secret that the Prime Minister and I have had a strong disagreement on this narrow issue, but we don’t have a disagreement on the need to make sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon and we don’t have a disagreement about the importance of us blunting destabilizing activities that Iran may be taking.
Sure, Mr. President. You just keep telling yourself that.