Obama and Netanyahu Meet for What is Probably the Last Time

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 21: (L to R) Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama during a bilateral meeting at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel, September 21, 2016 in New York City. Last week, Israel and the United States agreed to a $38 billion, 10-year aid package for Israel. Obama is expected to discuss the need for a "two-state solution" for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (PHOTO CREDIT: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 21: (L to R) Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama during a bilateral meeting at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel, September 21, 2016 in New York City. Last week, Israel and the United States agreed to a $38 billion, 10-year aid package for Israel. Obama is expected to discuss the need for a “two-state solution” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (PHOTO CREDIT: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

For seven years, they slogged through the sour rituals of a broken relationship: the strained meetings; the angry phone calls; the bitter recriminations; the slights, real and perceived.

On Wednesday, President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met here for what is likely to be their last time as leaders of Israel and the United States. Their smiles said more than their words.

“I want you to know, Barack, that you’ll always be a welcome guest in Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu said, noting there was a golf course next to his home for an ex-president reputed to have a “terrific” game.

“We’ll set up a tee time,” Mr. Obama replied.

It won’t be for the two of them, of course, since Mr. Netanyahu also noted he did not play golf.

“I guarantee you, I will visit Israel often,” said Mr. Obama, who traveled to the country once as president.

For all the bitterness that has characterized their relationship, over issues from the Iran nuclear deal to the peace process, Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu were able to end things on a harmonious note, at least publicly. After months of negotiations, the United States and Israel just signed a 10-year, $38 billion military aid package. Both held it up as proof of the enduring, unbreakable bond between the two countries.

Mr. Obama said the aid package would give Israel the ability to defend itself at a perilous time in the Middle East. Mr. Netanyahu said the security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and the United States was broader and deeper than most people understood, and he thanked Mr. Obama for his role in furthering that. Military cooperation has been a lone, steady bright spot in this otherwise rocky relationship.

And yet, neither man seemed keen to revisit old grievances. Mr. Netanyahu did not mention the Iran deal, which he tried to kill with thunderous speeches to the General Assembly and the United States Congress. Mr. Obama touched only gently on the growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which he once demanded that Mr. Netanyahu halt completely as a way to restart negotiations with the Palestinians.

Behind closed doors, there were signs of a more typical Obama-Netanyahu encounter. Mr. Obama, according to a briefing by senior American officials, raised deep concerns about the settlements as an obstacle to a two-state solution, and Mr. Netanyahu pushed back. It was not clear whether Mr. Obama offered the Israeli leader any hints about whether he planned to lay out parameters for a peace deal before he leaves office — something that White House officials do not rule out and that would rankle Mr. Netanyahu.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Mark Landler