The Weekly Standard has criticized the White House for what it calls “avoiding congratulating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the Israeli elections. Instead, he would only congratulate the Israeli people on having an election.”
PJ Media mentions the fact Obama sent his congratulations to other world leaders after their election victories, including Turkey’s Erdogan and Egypt’s al-Sis, as proof of a deliberate snubbing of Bibi.
Not being the biggest fan of President Obama and his treatment of the Israeli Prime Minister, my initial reaction was one of disgust. After I calmed down, I decided to do a little investigating, to ascertain what he did after the 2013 Israeli elections. It turns out he waited until after the coalition was formed.
White House on Formation of Israel’s New Government
16 March 2013
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
March 16, 2013
Statement by the Press Secretary on the Formation of Israel’s New Government
The President congratulates the Israeli people, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the new members of the Prime Minister’s governing coalition on the successful formation of Israel’s new government. President Obama looks forward to working closely with the Prime Minister and the new government to address the many challenges we face and advance our shared interest in peace and security. The United States places a high value on its deep and enduring bonds with Israel and the Israeli people. The President looks forward to further strengthening those bonds when he travels to Israel next week to meet with Israeli officials and to speak directly with the Israeli people.
One could argue this time around – unlike in 2013 – it is almost a foregone conclusion that Netanyahu will be successful in forming the required coalition. Nevertheless, it seems Obama is being consistent.
According to Dan Williams of Reuters:
On when Obama might congratulate Netanyahu on his election win, a US diplomat notes such messages usually await new Israeli government deal.
— Dan Williams (@DanWilliams) March 18, 2015
But this is not entirely true.
For instance, in 2006, President George W. Bush congratulated Ehud Olmert after the elections and before the government was formed.
Bush Congratulates Israel’s Olmert on Kadima’s Electoral Success
New party wins largest allotment of seats in Knesset elections
29 March 2006
Washington – President Bush called acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert March 29 to congratulate him on the strong showing of his newly formed Kadima party in the Knesset elections. According to news reports, Kadima won 28 of the 120 seats in the Israeli parliament followed by Labor with 20 seats, Shas with 13 and Likud with 11.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack also expressed congratulations to Olmert for the apparent Kadima victory, but noted that the results have not yet been certified. “[W]e look forward to working with the next Israeli government,” he said.
During Bush’s telephone call to Olmert, the two leaders also spoke about the health of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and Bush invited Olmert to visit Washington.
One can argue this is way more helpful approach.
It also bears noting that other leaders have already congratulated Bibi. Like the Prime Minister of India:
Congratulations my friend Bibi @netanyahu! Recall our New York meeting last September warmly.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 18, 2015
And EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini.
So it is not unprecedented, and could certainly help ease the tensions between the two leaders.
The question is: Does Obama’s consistent behavior when it comes to the Israeli elections demonstrate he has a consistent approach or just highlight an antipathy for Netanyahu going back to before the last elections?
Updated: I just noticed that in 2013, Obama congratulated Netanyahu 6 days after the elections, before the coalition government was formed.
Obama’s Call with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu
28 January 2013
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
January 28, 2013
Readout of the President’s Call with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu
President Obama spoke today by telephone with Prime Minister Netanyahu to congratulate him on his party’s success in winning a plurality of Knesset seats in Israel’s recent election. The President indicated that the United States looks forward to working with the next government. He also reiterated his commitment to the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel, and pledged to work closely with Israel on our shared agenda for peace and security in the Middle East.
So the “wait until coalition formed” excuse no longer holds even for Obama. Also, one needs to ask the question: Why did Obama wait almost a week last time to congratulate Netanyahu?