Details have emerged as to the real extent of the shabby treatment afforded to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the hands of US President Barack Obama.
Benjamin Netanyahu was left to stew in a White House meeting room for over an hour after President Barack Obama abruptly walked out of tense talks to have supper with his family, it emerged on Thursday.
The snub marked a fresh low in US-Israeli relations and appeared designed to show Mr Netanyahu how low his stock had fallen in Washington after he refused to back down in a row over Jewish construction in east Jerusalem.
The Israeli prime minister arrived at the White House on Tuesday evening brimming with confidence that the worst of the crisis in his country’s relationship with the United States was over.
Over the previous two days, he had been feted by senior Republicans and greeted warmly by members of Congress. He had also received a standing ovation from the American Israel Public Affairs Affairs Committee, one of the most influential lobby groups in the United States.
But Mr Obama was less inclined to be so conciliatory. He immediately presented Mr Netanyahu with a list of 13 demands designed both to the end the feud with his administration and to build Palestinian confidence ahead of the resumption of peace talks. Key among those demands was a previously-made call to halt all new settlement construction in east Jerusalem.
When the Israeli prime minister stalled, Mr Obama rose from his seat declaring: “I’m going to the residential wing to have dinner with Michelle and the girls.”
As he left, Mr Netanyahu was told to consider the error of his ways. “I’m still around,” Mr Obama is quoted by Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper as having said. “Let me know if there is anything new.”
For over an hour, Mr Netanyahu and his aides closeted themselves in the Roosevelt Room on the first floor of the White House to map out a response to the president’s demands.
Although the two men then met again, at 8.20 pm, for a brief second meeting, it appeared that they failed to break the impasse. White House officials were quoted as saying that disagreements remained. Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, added: “Apparently they did not reach an understanding with the United States.”
It was the second time this month that Mr Netanyahu has been at the receiving end of a US dinner-time snub.
A fortnight ago, Joe Biden the US vice president, arrived 90 minutes late for a dinner Mr Netanyahu hosted in Jerusalem after Israel announced plans to build 1,600 new homes in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish settlement in the city’s predominantly Arab east.
Erupting in fury, the United States described the decision to expand Ramat Shlomo as an “insult” that undermined Mr Biden’s peace making efforts and demanded that it be reversed. Palestinians see east Jerusalem, captured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, as their future capital and regard any Jewish building there as a barrier to a peace settlement.
Mr Obama’s mood further soured in the minutes before his meeting with Mr Netanyahu after it emerged that approval had been given for an even more contentious Jewish building project in the heart of one of east Jerusalem’s Palestinian suburbs.
Sending a clear message of his displeasure, Mr Obama treated his guest to a series of slights. Photographs of the meeting were forbidden and an Israeli request to issue a joint-statement once it was over were turned down.
“There is no humiliation exercise that the Americans did not try on the prime minister and his entourage,” Israel’s Maariv newspaper reported. “Bibi received in the White House the treatment reserved for the president of Equatorial Guinea.”
The Times adds:
One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House telephone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”.
I think Nile Gardiner, a Washington-based foreign affairs analyst and political commentator, says it well:
This is no way to treat America’s closest ally in the Middle East, and a true friend of the United States. I very much doubt that even third world tyrants would be received in such a rude fashion by the president. In fact, they would probably be warmly welcomed by the Obama White House as part of its “engagement” strategy, while the leaders of Britain and Israel are frequently met with arrogant disdain.
The ritual humiliation of the Israelis is an absolute disgrace, and yet another example of how the Obama administration views its allies with indifference, contempt, and at times outright hostility. It is extraordinary how far the Obama team has gone out of its way to grovel to state sponsors of terrorism, such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Muammar Gaddafi, while kicking America’s friends in the teeth.
Israel is literally fighting for its survival on a daily basis against an array of vicious terrorist groups, from Hamas to Hizbollah, while facing a looming threat from a genocidal, nuclear-armed Iran. President Obama’s top priority in the Middle East should be preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapons programme. Instead he seems obsessed with kowtowing to America’s enemies by bashing Israel at almost every opportunity.
This is a foreign policy doctrine that is both destructive and fundamentally against the US national interest. The future security of the United States rests not upon the degree to which it can appease her enemies, but upon the strength of her enduring alliances with the rest of the free world. Israel needs Washington’s support and vice versa, not a slap in the face from a president whose idea of world leadership seems to consist largely of apologising for his country while throwing America’s friends to the wolves.