Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama conferred twice yesterday at the White House, but the tone of the meetings was apparently chilly. As the Washington Post notes, the meetings had little of the pomp that normally accompanies a visit by another head of state.
“No reporters or photographers were invited to record the scene or even a handshake between the two leaders, who met one day after Netanyahu, in a speech to a pro-Israel group, rejected the administration’s plea that he halt construction in a disputed area of Jerusalem claimed by Palestinians as their capital.
Generally, a leader of an ally would expect to have a joint news conference with the president or at least a joint appearance before photographers. But the White House did not even immediately release a statement providing a summary of the meeting’s topics.”
Netanyahu is trying to work around Obama by building support for Israeli settlement policies in Congress and with the American public. The hope is that by taking that approach, Netanyahu can limit Obama’s political ability to demand concessions from Israel in future peace talks. It’s a divide-and-conquer strategy, as Politico notes.
“The clearest sign of Netanyahu’s rift with the White House, however, may have been his intense focus on Congress, which has blunted the attempts of many of Obama’s predecessors to pressure the Jewish state.
“We in Congress stand by Israel,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, standing beside Netanyahu Tuesday. “In Congress, we speak with one voice on the subject of Israel.”
But while Congress was speaking publicly with one voice, behind the scenes Netanyahu seemed to be trying to drive a wedge between it and the White House.
The Israeli leader met separately with groups of congressmen and senators, finding support on both sides of the aisle, but particular warmth from Republicans.”
But the thing is, two can play at that game. While Netanyahu tries to undercut support for Obama’s Middle East strategy here in America, Obama is trying to do the same to Netanyahu in Israel by highlighting the damage that his policies are doing to international support for Israel. (Yesterday’s ouster of an Israeli diplomat by Great Britain — retaliation against the use of fake British passports in a recent assassination attributed to Mossad — no doubt reinforced that message.) The goal is to force Netanyahu to split with the more extreme factions of his coalition, which at the moment clearly isn’t interested in peace talks.
Apparently, it’s having an effect, as reported by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:
Two surveys published in recent days produced astonishing findings about the (Israeli) public’s attitude on construction in Jerusalem, findings that should alarm every Jew. In a Haaretz-Dialog poll, 48 percent of the respondents said Israel should continue building in all parts of Jerusalem, even if the price is a rift with the United States, while 41 percent said Israel should stop building in East Jerusalem until the end of negotiations with the Palestinians. Almost identical findings came up in a Mina Tzemach poll, where 46 percent said building in East Jerusalem should be frozen and only 51 percent opposed such a move.
Who would have believed that we would reach a situation where more than 40 percent of the public supports a construction freeze in East Jerusalem and only half say building should continue? The significance of these surprising numbers is that the Jewish consensus on united Jerusalem has been cracked, if not shattered. It doesn’t mean that half of Israel’s Jews have given up on East Jerusalem or that they see Gilo and Ramot as settlements. It means that increasing numbers feel detached and alienated from the eastern part of the city and do not accept many things that have been going on there. This grave situation is the rotten fruit of the activities of extreme right-wing organizations in Jerusalem, which have the support of Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Mayor Nir Barkat.”
But hey, what’s a little political meddling among friends, right?