PM on eve of Washington trip says strength of US-Israeli relations will prevail over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a speech at the Western Wall, It came two days after a visit to his father's grave in Jerusalem. Netanyahu's father Benzion moved from Israel to Cheltenham, Pa., in to [ The roots of why Obama and Netanyahu dislike each other so much] Perhaps because of a family connection, the Netanyahus ended up. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and President Barack Obama At a recent gathering of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, the eminent Obama's remarkable memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” includes a.
Obama, however, was not. Obama would travel to Copenhagen a month before the event to lobby the International Olympic Committee to grant the summer games to his hometown of Chicago, and would return to Europe a month after the commemoration to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.
His own life experience, he told the lawmakers, informed his decision to go to Istanbul. I know, because I am one of them. But Avineri had a point. War may be necessary to contain the spread of Islamic State, for example, but only social reform can really cure it. Add to this social vision the experience of a consummate outsider — half-white and half-black, with a childhood and a family scattered around the world — and one begins to see the profile of a man with an automatic empathy for the marginalized and an almost instinctive sense that the most significant problems of the world are rooted not in ideology but in oppressive social and economic structures that reinforce marginalization.
This sensibility is broader than any economic orthodoxy, and is rooted in the hard experience of South Chicago. It was precisely on such issues that one needed to enlist the support of citizens as well as leaders. Jerusalem It was this expansive humanitarian vision that led Obama to make his first major strategic mistake when it came to Israel.
Indeed, it was in Israel that his narrative of world affairs first crashed into the unforgiving realities of geopolitics.
This insult to the legitimacy of the Jewish polity in Israel, in both rhetoric and travel itinerary, was entirely unintended. It took place just a few months before he unwittingly insulted the Germans over the Berlin Wall commemoration.
In both cases, the reason was the same: By virtue of its success it was irrelevant to his foreign policy vision. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict seemed to share a great deal with the American social ills he had battled his entire adult life: But geopolitics are not social work. And what is true in Chicago may not be true in Jerusalem. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a fight against social or economic disadvantage, but between national identities.
Even if he wants a peace deal with Israel, as Obama wholeheartedly believes, PA President Mahmoud Abbas must maneuver within the confines of a Palestinian national narrative that rejects the Jewish national cause as irredeemably illegitimate. Abbas cannot simply compromise; he must be seen to win. So the fact that the White House had demanded and obtained an unprecedented settlement freeze from Israel did not prove to Palestinians that Israel was amenable to compromise — but rather that their own leaders were demanding less from the hated occupier than the unabashedly pro-Israel White House.
The White House, a bastion of Zionists by its own admission, had effortlessly extracted a concession no Palestinian leader had ever even demanded. In his very first effort at trust-building between the sides, the Obama White House had disastrously narrowed the domestic political maneuvering room of the Palestinian leadership. Each time American pressure on Israel grew, the domestic pressure on Palestinian leaders to raise their demands and preconditions grew apace.
Social organizing does not grapple with these layers of ideology and identity, with the unforgiving logic of ethnic conflict, and Israelis soon came to believe that Obama could not see them. AfterObama remained a well-regarded figure in Israeli popular culture, but according to polls he lost something more important than his likability: Israelis trusted his intentions, but not his judgment.
His initial optimism has been tempered by the reality checks of Ukraine, Syria and other crises. He would soon have an opportunity to enlist them in his cause. The Republicans now controlled the House, and Obama was looking weak and defeated.
Over the next months, as the Arab Spring spread across the Middle East, Netanyahu felt he needed the support.
He thought that Obama's handling of the events was populist and irresponsible, especially the decision to push out Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Eager to help, the Republican leadership invited Netanyahu to speak before Congress in late May.
Even though administration officials say the date was selected at random, one of them now admits that "our timing wasn't great.
When discussing the future border, Obama said it would be based on the lines, with mutually agreed land swaps—a position very similar to those staked out by Bill Clinton and George W.
Bush during their presidencies. Administration officials said that the speech was good for Israel on a host of other important issues and that Netanyahu could have easily presented it as a victory.
Netanyahu chose another strategy.
It began with a private discussion, which aides from both sides describe as polite and positive. He also complained that the administration was only criticizing Israel for the stalled peace process, giving a "free pass" to the Palestinians.
Obama didn't agree, but, according to one official, he appreciated that Netanyahu was making his points respectfully and in private. One Israeli official described Hillary Clinton's call to Netanyahu as "violent.
Dozens of journalists filled the room, while aides fiddled with their phones in the back. After a short statement by Obama, it was Netanyahu's turn to speak. For the next seven minutes, he expounded on why his country could never go back to the lines.
To emphasize his point, Netanyahu started listing basic historical and geographical facts about Israel. What was supposed to be a routine joint statement now looked like the gray-haired Netanyahu giving his younger counterpart a history lesson. The Israeli and American officials in the room had completely different reactions. The Israelis felt relief.
On his way to Washington, fuming over Obama's mention of the digitsNetanyahu had rehearsed an even more didactic version of the lecture, in which he would address Obama directly. They were glad to see that Netanyahu had taken their advice. But Obama's staff was apoplectic. One Israeli official said it was impossible not to notice the angry looks and hear whispers of "how can he do this? He waited patiently for the prime minister to finish, and then accompanied him to his limo in good spirits.
One official described the feeling in the White House at the time in two words: According to a senior White House official, the Israelis proposed a number of ideas to defuse the tension. Perhaps Netanyahu and Obama could be photographed watching football together.
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Or maybe the president could cross the street to Blair House America's official residence for visiting foreign leaders so that he and Netanyahu could be filmed saying only nice things to each other. It means that the parties themselves will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, Obama thought the speech was a major success: Who could have imagined that the entire AIPAC conference would get on its feet to support " borders with land swaps"?
But in some Israeli news outlets, another narrative emerged. Sources close to Netanyahu briefed the press corps that after Netanyahu scolded Obama in the Oval Office and addressed the U. Congress, the president was forced to soften his position. Netanyahu refuses to have such conversations at the Blair House: There is always a chance that someone is listening.
Where Benjamin and Sara hold some of their most sensitive discussions in New York is less predictable, since it depends on where Sheldon Adelson happens to be. Last year, after Bibi railed against Hamas from the U. This year, when Sara entered the U. After angry members demanded to know why the national parliament had been converted into a wedding venue, the Knesset chairman said he was approached by Benjamin Netanyahu, then the deputy foreign minister, who described the event as "a private evening honoring donors to Israel.
Many Israelis call it the "Bibi-ton," a combination of Netanyahu's nickname and the Hebrew word for newspaper. Even Netanyahu's right-wing coalition partners have publicly referred to it as "Bibi's Pravda.
On the one hand, he was still the elected leader of Israel, working with the president on sensitive issues like new sanctions against Iran. Eventually, Bibi settled on a strategy: According to a former White House official, the result was that "there were two kinds of discussions involving Bibi during Is he working against us?
After Romney spoke about Iran in a joint appearance with Netanyahu, the prime minister said, "I couldn't agree with you more, Mitt. Never before had such a high-profile fundraiser for an American presidential candidate taken place on Israeli soil in the middle of an election. The Romney campaign is using you, they warned him. Netanyahu expressed surprise to hear that even pro-Israeli Democrats were being targeted by groups on the right—a claim that not everyone in the room found convincing.
Did he feel better about Romney than Obama on both a personal and an ideological level? But was he actively working to change the outcome of the election?
A senior Israeli official explains that the prime minister only said that to warn Obama against conceding too much to Iran, but to many spectators, it looked like another attempt to hurt the president in the elections. In the months leading up to the election, say two former aides to the prime minister, Ron Dermer repeatedly presented Netanyahu with polls showing that Obama was vulnerable.
Multiple senior Israeli and American officials testify that Dermer's analysis—which Netanyahu highly appreciated—was that Obama would likely end up a one-term president.
And on Election Day, one former staffer says, Netanyahu and Dermer "were in a complete euphoria. Even hours before the exit polls, Dermer was still explaining to people in the office why Romney was going to win. Henrique Cymerman, a Portuguese-born Israeli journalist, says that he once talked to Netanyahu about Israel's failure to connect to the Hispanic community, and Bibi replied: He beat Romney in almost every swing state and received almost 70 percent of the Jewish vote, despite the unprecedented effort to portray him as anti-Israel.
The morning after the election, Netanyahu invited Shapiro, now the U. Shapiro, an Illinois native who is fluent in Hebrew and very popular in Israel, had worked for Obama since and was close with both Netanyahu and Dermer. Netanyahu used to ask him to join him in first class on flights to the U.
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Netanyahu believed that a positive meeting with the ambassador was a necessary first step in restoring his relationship with the White House.
When Shapiro arrived, Netanyahu asked his official videographers to film the two of them congratulating the president. On camera, Netanyahu found all the right words. He explained that "the security cooperation between our countries is rock-solid. Of his many headaches, this one was too small to register, according to a senior administration official. But what he did care about—and what frustrated him to no end—was his toxic reputation in Israel. After all, Obama liked to think of himself as "the most Jewish president ever"—a phrase he used in meetings with Jewish-American leaders more than once.
He also knew that military and intelligence cooperation between the two countries was at an all-time high. Senior Israeli officials agreed. In that instance, the president leaned on the Egyptians until they intervened, saving the lives of six Israeli security guards trapped inside the building. Determined to repair the damage, he arranged for his first presidential visit to Israel shortly after his re-election. He made an effort to appear friendly with Netanyahu, who had also recently won another term.
He took off his jacket as they visited an Iron Dome battery and made reference to "my friend Bibi" in their joint press availability. A number of ideas related to the Palestinians were discussed, but Dermer suggested a better option. In Maya Turkish Islamist organization had tried to send a flotilla carrying food and construction materials into Gaza. When the ships were stopped by the Israeli Navy, activists violently attacked Israeli soldiers with knives and bats.
The soldiers then pulled their guns, killing nine of the activists. In response, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was suspending diplomatic ties with Israel until Netanyahu apologized and compensated the families. The incident was a major headache for the Obama administration: So, in that pre-trip meeting, Dermer told Netanyahu that he should give Obama the opportunity to reconcile the crisis while he was in Israel.
Netanyahu knew his supporters on the right would hate the idea, but he admitted that it was genius. They both agreed that it had to be scripted from start to finish, or else it wouldn't work. There was always a chance that once Netanyahu and Erdogan got on the phone Erdogan would call the Israeli soldiers terrorists, Netanyahu would accuse Turkey of supporting Hamas and an opportunity would turn into a disaster. Obama was scheduled to leave on March 23, and by the time his motorcade reached the airport, it still wasn't clear whether the call would happen.
The Israeli military placed a special trailer on the tarmac next to Air Force One for last-minute discussions. After about half an hour inside the trailer, Obama received a version of the script. He liked what he saw and handed it to Netanyahu. Gordon contacted Turkish officials to go over Netanyahu's concerns, and, for a few minutes, the trailer was silent.
Obama spoke first, asking Bibi if he wanted a cup of coffee while he was up getting one for himself. Just then, word came that Erdogan had accepted Netanyahu's fixes. The call went through, and Obama took off with a successful ending to a successful trip. A few days later, opinion polls in Israel showed Obama crossing the 50 percent approval mark for the first time since Some Israeli pundits even suggested the two heads of state might become friends and usher in a brand-new era of cooperation.
By the spring ofObama and Netanyahu had spoken on the phone every few weeks for four years. Bibi says something positive, like thanking Obama for Iron Dome or for his support at some U. Leaders have something in common that no one else can understand—a lack of sleep and an overdose of problems. President, you think Congress is tough?
Wait until you see the Knesset! Once Bibi and Mr. This is especially true when they're discussing Iran and the potential nuclear threat to Israel. The White House believed he was moderate—or at least as moderate as an Iranian leader could be—and saw an opening for a diplomatic agreement that would solve the Iranian nuclear threat without the use of force.
Netanyahu, on the other hand, strongly doubted that Rouhani's election would stop the ayatollahs' quest for the bomb. Three months later, Netanyahu returned to the White House. The meeting began with staff members in the room, but at one point, Obama asked for time alone with Netanyahu.
He informed him of the secret American-Iranian nuclear negotiations channel that had been active for more than a year. Netanyahu's reaction was calm and mature. He didn't attack the negotiations.
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He just went over his list of 'red lines' for any nuclear agreement. Kerry and Netanyahu were meeting frequently during this period, as part of the secretary's attempt to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. Usually, they held a short press availability before each talk, but this time, Kerry feared a public confrontation and asked that they keep the cameras away. Netanyahu informed Kerry that, as far as he was concerned, the photo opportunity was still happening. Later that month, Obama and five other world leaders signed an interim nuclear deal with Iran that included lifting some important sanctions.
The Republican majority in Congress, together with some skeptical Democrats, was determined to take the deal down. And luckily for Netanyahu, he had just appointed a new ambassador to Washington, someone savvy, someone who knew his way around Capitol Hill.
His name was Ron Dermer. In the White House, almost no one was happy about the appointment. When Obama and Netanyahu discussed it over the phone, the president said, "This is your prerogative, and we will work with him, but as far as we're concerned, he's on probation.
From the beginning, he proved to be a different kind of ambassador. Held over an entire weekend at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, it was essentially an audition for the various Republican presidential contenders in search of the casino magnate's support. John Kasich was there, Chris Christie was there and Dermer thought there was nothing wrong with his being there: Israeli ambassadors have attended RJC events for decades.
But his participation helped the White House paint him as a partisan Republican. Administration officials also believed he was lobbying members of Congress against the nuclear talks, specifically by supporting legislation to place new sanctions on Iran—an act that would have scuttled the negotiations.
According to a former senior White House aide, Obama warned Netanyahu in early that "this legislation has your ambassador's fingerprints all over it. In March of that year, Dermer pulled off his greatest coup.
When some of his own senior defense officials warned that the speech would cause irreparable damage to his relationship with Obama, Netanyahu brushed them off. In fact, all the things that Netanyahu saw as helpful to his cause were used against him.
Back inBibi had used his testimony to show the Israeli public how much influence he had in Washington. Now, his appearance seemed to prove Obama's point that the opponents of the Iran deal were "the same people who got us into Iraq.
For the first time in decades, Iran was no longer the most isolated country in the region. It was internationally recognized and powerful. His world is one of strong and weak, where everything is measured on a power scale," says a former Israeli minister who was close to him for decades.
Obama's victory on the Iran deal was a personal humiliation for Netanyahu. Not only did he appear weak by losing the battle, but he also lost his partnership with the American president—this time for good. When the two met at the White House earlier this week, both sides tried to pretend that things were copacetic. Netanyahu brought up the possibility of a two-state solution. Obama promised to boost security aid to Israel. We're never going to get over Iran. So Kerry picked up his cell and called.
And while Israeli officials believe that any of the leading candidates would make a better partner than Obama, the relationship will never be an easy one. Nor is it a given that Netanyahu would fare much better with a Republican president, as is widely assumed.