Rumors swirl as Netanyahu passes on meeting with Obama

Relations between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu haven’t been spectacular (to put it mildly) and recent developments seem to hint that they’re not getting any better. There was supposed to be a meeting in Washington later this month, but now it appears to be off the table. (Yahoo News)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declined an offer to meet President Barack Obama at the White House later this month and canceled his trip to Washington, the White House said on Monday, citing Israeli news reports.

Netanyahu’s decision to nix his U.S. visit marked the latest episode in a fraught relationship with Obama that has yet to recover from their deep differences over last year’s U.S.-led international nuclear deal with Iran, Israel’s arch-foe.

The White House said the Israeli government had requested a Netanyahu meeting with Obama on either March 18 or 19 and that he was offered a March 18 encounter two weeks ago.

The bare bones logistics of the cancellation are coming down to a case of he said she said. Israel originally requested the meeting and supposedly offered a two day window when it could take place. Washington claims they offered one of those two days, but Netanyahu’s office is saying that the White House couldn’t accommodate their schedule. There’s either been some crossed wires or somebody has changed their story if this is truly just a scheduling problem. But could it be something more?

Israel is still steamed over the Iran nuke deal for sure, but there’s also the recent move by the President to issue a signing statement on the anti-BDS bill saying that he would not enforce provisions put in place to protect Israel’s interests. Obama has given Bibi plenty of reasons to be a bit piqued, so this may well be more than a simple matter of missing something on a calendar.

It seems to me that Netanyahu could be playing a longer game here as well. Is it possible that Israel is seeing Obama as a lame duck at this point and simply choosing to table any major action until they can deal with the next administration? They’ll have far better prospects if a Republican takes office next January, but if it’s Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office, Israel will pretty much be stuck with the status quo. It’s not unreasonable to surmise that Bibi is seeing any investment of political capital with Obama as a waste of time if it’s Hillary and potentially a detriment if he’s going to be dealing with Trump, Cruz or Rubio.

The situation is complicated by the pending negotiations over the next U.S. aid package for Israel. As early as a month ago there was speculation that Netanyahu was unhappy with the terms that Obama was offering and might just put the negotiations on the back burner until there was a new White House occupant. The current deal doesn’t expire until 2018 and Israel is looking to bump up American contributions closer to $5B annually, a figure Obama has balked at. (Reuters)

Israel may be unable to reach a new defense aid agreement with the Obama administration and could wait for the next U.S. president to secure better terms, a senior Israeli official said on Monday in a veiled rebuke signaling a snag in negotiations.

But a senior U.S. official urged Israel to accept an increased 10-year multibillion-dollar package that President Barack Obama is offering, saying whoever occupies the White House next would be unlikely to demonstrate any greater commitment to Israel’s security.

Differences between the two sides, which surfaced after a round of negotiations on a new defense memorandum of understanding (MOU) last week, underscored continuing tensions over last year’s U.S.-led nuclear deal with Iran, Israel’s regional arch-foe.

No matter whether it’s the aid package, the anti-BDS flap or the nuclear deal, Bibi has a convenient card to play if this turns into a serious diplomatic scuffle and it’s one which is already being floated in Israeli media. If the Prime Minister shows up in D.C. there will be aggressive requests from all the candidates to sneak in a meeting with him for public relations value. With the primary heating up so much over here, Netanyahu can simply claim that he doesn’t want to give the appearance of playing favorites and “interfering” in the election. (You’ll recall what a media circus that turned into the last time he came over and addressed Congress.) It would be the gentleman’s way out of things while still sending a message. I’d put my money on that outcome more than any others I’m hearing this week.


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