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. – Washington Post
At the White House press briefing today, Robert Gibbs wouldn’t discuss details, but said Obama’s staff and Netanyahu’s people met until 12:30 a.m. this morning. As for the White House press corps, all they got was a briefing, no pictures, and no Q&A with Obama and Netanyahu.
Leave it to Sen. Schumer to snag the only one.
From Politico, reporting by Laura Rozen and Ben Smith:
Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office Tuesday evening for an unexpectedly-long 89-minutes until about 7:00, then stayed to consult with his own staff in the Roosevelt Room, according to a source briefed on the meeting. The two then met again for 35 minutes at 8:20 at Netanyahu’s request, the source said. But the meetings were shrouded in unusual secrecy, in part because U.S. officials, who just ten days earlier called the surprise announcement of new housing in East Jerusalem an “insult” and an “affront,” made sure to reward Netanyahu with a series of small snubs: There were no photographs released from the meeting, and no briefing for the press.
And as of late Tuesday evening, neither side had released the usual “readout” of the meetings’ content — a likely indicator of the distance between the sides.
Going mostly unnoticed in the health care onslaught, was new settlements were announced just before Obama met with Netanyahu (which I mentioned yesterday). Proving the impossibility of ducking domestic realities when meeting your closest ally.
A senior U.S. official telling Politico that “This is exactly what we expect Prime Minister Netanyahu to get control of.. The current drip-drip-drip of projects in East Jerusalem impedes progress.”
When pigs fly.
This gave the Republican right an opportunity to attack Pres. Obama, with Rep. Mike Pence, who has the fantasy of being president, something that makes Sarah Palin’s dream look realistic, saying Obama is trying to “micromanage” Israel on settlements. Eric Cantor also chiming in with his usual blather.
But Netanyahu is smart enough to know that bringing up Iran focuses everyone, which reaches into the heart of Congress, uniting people. Stephen M. Walt offers advice, compliments of Trita Parsi, someone I’ve had the pleasure of listening to whose words should be heeded.
But one word of caution, courtesy of Trita Parsi. Trying to push Israeli-Palestinian peace in order to then go after Iran has one obvious downside: it gives Tehran an enormous incentive to do whatever it can to derail the admittedly fragile peace process. As Parsi shows in his prize-winning book Treacherous Alliance, this is what happened during the 1990s, after the Bush administration excluded Iran from the Madrid Conference and after the Clinton administration had adopted the policy of “dual containment.” Iran had never paid that much attention to the Palestinian issue before then, but it started ramping up support for Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups as a way to pay the United States back and to undermine U.S. efforts to isolate them.
So instead of announcing (or hinting) that we are interested in Israeli-Palestinian peace primarily so we can go after Iran, we ought to emphasize that we are interested in peace there because it’s the right thing to do (i.e., better for us, better for Israel, and obviously better for the Palestinians). At the same time, we should continue patient, realistic (and maybe even more imaginative) efforts to improve relations with Iran, so that they don’t have greater incentives to play the spoiler. Ditto Syria.
This isn’t George W. Bush’s Washington anymore. Pres. Obama actually understands the players and the gamesmanship going on, but he also knows that without Israel coming to terms with settlements the worst is yet to come.
Netanyahu “is too smart not to understand that Washington has changed,” veteran Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller told POLITICO on Tuesday. “And that a potentially transformative president who is now king of the world for a day is facing off against Benjamin Netanyahu, king of Israel. And the fight between the two is not today. What we see now is positioning.” – Laura Rozen and Ben Smith
Everyone knows what must happen. Two states, with Jerusalem the capital of Israel, but also of the Palestinian state. The parameters the problem, which is just one reason for the never ending positioning.
TM NOTE: This post has been updated.