‘No love lost between Obama & Netanyahu’
Benjamin Netanyahu’s already tense relations with the White House have reached a new low after the announcement that the Israeli Prime Minister will speak before the US Congress at the invitation by Republican House Speaker John Boehner. The Obama administration – which had not been even informed on the matter - deemed it a breach of protocol.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin reportedly declined to meet Obama during his trip to New York to speak at the UN. The White House, commenting on the issue, cited the two leaders’ conflicting schedules.
RT:What’s behind these so-called 'scheduling conflicts'? Is it a signal to the Israelis they are not welcome?
Owen Alterman: Well, I think first of all we should make sure not to mix up two different things. One is the relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. And Prime Minister Netanyahu is the head of government, so he is actually the one who sets policies. Their disagreements are famous and this goes back to the story last week, when the Congress invited Netanyahu to speak but the President was kept out of the loop. So Bibi, the Prime Minister will come to the US to speak before Congress in early March and not meet President Obama... And that’s being understood here in Israel as definitely a snub of Netanyahu. The separate issue is Israel’s President, which is largely a ceremonial position of Head of State, is in New York this week for the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and for a ceremony at the United Nations. That visit was scheduled to the US a few months ago. And there had been initial context for a meeting between President Rivlin, again the ceremonial leader of Israel, and President Obama and this context hadn’t really gone very far and they decided to skip the meeting this time. Then all of a sudden we heard in the past few days that the White House reached out to Rivlin to try to set up a meeting with him. Rivlin apparently decided to turn them down, citing scheduling conflict but maybe also to stay out of the tension between Netanyahu and Obama.
RT:Mr. Netanyahu is expected to address the US Congress about the threat of Iran later in March, or two weeks before his party goes to general elections in Israel. Is there anything we should read into the timing?
OA: The timing is connected to two things. First, there’s these two bills which are coming before Congress in the coming months, connected with the Iranian issue. One would impose sanctions on Iran if there is no deal by the June 30 deadline or if Iran breaks its promises under the interim agreement that it has already signed with the US and with other the world powers. The other issue is the Israeli political calendar. Israel has elections on March 17 and Prime Minister Netanyahu is running for reelection. And the day when he addresses the Congress happens to be two weeks before.
RT:Does Obama want Netanyahu reelected because it doesn’t seem that they are best friends now?
OA: There is no love lost between these two leaders. Part of this is personal. They personally don’t get along and never have and never really hit it off. They have two different world views and come from two different places, ideologically and philosophically. But also there is real policy difference between the two. There have been differences on issues like development of Jewish settlement in the West Bank. But right now the biggest differences are on the Iranian issue, where two leaders have very different policies and some of different goals and it could be argued that the countries may even have somewhat different interests. So that’s really at the heart of latest set of issues between the two.
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