President Barack Obama is conducting what is expected to be his final bilateral meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this afternoon as he begins to wind down his presidency and make way for his successor.
The U.S. president and the Israeli PM who haven’t always seen eye to eye on regional issues are chatting for an hour this afternoon at the Lotte New York Palace hotel ahead of Obama’s return to Washington.
At the top of the meeting, Obama said in brief remarks that a $38 million U.S. military assistance deal for Israel will ensure that the country’s military has the full capabilities it needs during a time of great uncertainty.
‘The bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable,’ he said.
Obama also took Netanyahu up an offer to golf in Israel once he’s out of office.
‘We’ll set up a tee time,’ he quipped.
Relations between the leaders of the allied nations have been chilly since Obama inked a deal with Iran to halt its nuclear program that included the lifting of some sanctions on the country that funds terrorist activity in Israel.
The United States has returned $1.7 billion in frozen assets to Iran since the completion of the agreement with the admission that some of that money will assuredly make its way to Hezbollah.
The five-nation terror pact also lifted $100 billion in economic restrictions on the country related to its pursuit of nuclear power. Sanctions pertaining to Iran’s terror activity were left in place wholly.
Netanyahu made an aggressive case for Western countries and Russia not to engage with Iran, speaking to legislators in Washington during a joint session of Congress. The White House did not invite him to 1600 Pennsylvania during the visit as Israel was just weeks away from a national election, and it pushed ahead with nuclear talks.
Publicly both leaders have remained cordial with each other and affirmed the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security.
A White House official said Tuesday they would discuss that ‘security cooperation’ – but they would also talk about’concerns’ about Israel’s conduct toward the Palestinians.
Obama tread lightly on Tuesday as he addressed the conflict between the opposing nations during remarks before United Nations.
‘Surely, Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if Palestinians reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel, but Israel recognizes that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land,’he stated.
The statement was a notable inclusion in the speech. Obama avoided the topic entirely in remarks to the General Assembly in 2015.
His final address to fellow global leaders, which Netanyahu was not present for, Obama stressed the importance of the institution to the building of solidarity between nations and his ‘equal treatment for all communities — whether it’s a religious minority in Myanmar, or an ethnic minority in Burundi, or a racial minority right here in the United States.
‘We all have to do better as leaders in tamping down, rather than encouraging, a notion of identity that leads us to diminish others,’ he said.
The president’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said Tuesday evening after the speech, ‘We’ve been concerned about continued settlement activity, the potential viability of a Palestinian state in the face of that settlement activity. We’ve raised those directly with the Israeli government. I’m sure President Obama will do so tomorrow as well.’
They’ll also discuss an aide package to Israel that Rhodes described as a ‘very substantial commitment’ – $38 billion over 10 years – that will ensure ‘Israel’s qualitative military edge, and certain capabilities that we have worked through with them in determining how they deal with threats in their region.’
It’s evidence of a concrete achievement to showcase as evidence that America and its closest Mideast ally are sticking together. The 10-year military assistance deal worth $38 billion, the largest tranche of military aid the U.S. has ever given another country.
The White House is hoping the unprecedented aid will curb the perception among Israel’s supporters that Obama has been insufficiently supportive of Israel’s security.
Yet Iran’s chief of staff of the armed forces said Wednesday the U.S.-Israeli aid deal only makes Iran more determined to strengthen its military.
Netanyahu said he planned to thank Obama for the military aid.
Yet that point of agreement, reached after arduous negotiations, only partially masks the underlying tensions between the two governments — most notably over Israel’s posture toward the Palestinians and continued expansion of settlements in occupied territories.
Despite Obama’s protestations, since he took office Israel has pushed a wave of construction that matched or even exceeded the pace of building when George W. Bush was president, according to Israeli government data obtained by The Associated Press.
‘We’ve been concerned about continued settlement activity, the potential viability of a Palestinian state in the face of that settlement activity. We’ve raised those directly with the Israeli government,’ Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said Tuesday. ‘I’m sure President Obama will do so tomorrow as well.’
Previous efforts to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace have left a bad taste for the Obama administration, most notably a frenetic attempt by Secretary of State John Kerry that collapsed in 2014. Reluctant to invest more diplomatic resources at a time when he says both sides lack the needed political will, Obama has long since conceded that his administration won’t be the one to forge a resolution to the Mideast conflict.
Yet that has not stopped the president from publicly flirting with the possibility that, in his final months in office, he’ll seek to influence the future debate by laying out what he sees as the contours of any viable deal.
That could come in the form of a major speech or a U.S.-backed U.N. Security Council resolution — both moves that would increase pressure on Israel and that Netanyahu would be expected to oppose.
‘I wouldn’t rule out the president taking any particular step,’ Rhodes said.
Netanyahu heads to New York at a time of renewed violence, including a series of stabbings by Palestinian assailants in Israel and other incidents that have raised concerns about a return to more frequent bloodshed.
Hours before his meeting with Obama, Turkish officials shot and slightly wounded an attacker armed with a knife who tried to enter the Israeli Embassy in Turkey, Turkish officials said.
Netanyahu will likely try to portray his country as a victim in a global war against Islamic extremism. Israel has blamed accused Palestinian leaders of inciting violence — a claim the Palestinians reject.
‘I expect from the international community a uniform standard in the war on terrorism,’ Netanyahu said shortly before heading to the U.S.
SOURCE: The Associated Press
Francesca Chambers, Daily Mail