One can well understand the reluctance of the White House to schedule a meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli prime minister has made surprisingly little effort to hide his preferences for Obama’s rival in the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. He has repeatedly vented his disdain for Obama’s policy on Iran, both in private and in public, with ever-increasing abandon. Eight weeks before the elections, the last thing Obama needs is a potential public relations disaster in the form of a reprise of Netanyahu’s May 2011 upbraiding of the president in the Oval Office over the 1967 borders. For all Obama knows, Netanyahu might very well end his remarks by telling Americans that “it’s time for change” and flashing a placard of Romney.
Nonetheless, refusing to meet Netanyahu is a mistake. Even if it’s not an outright refusal but just a problem of venues and timetables, the decision is still a blunder. It is a political mistake, because many American Jews, even those who otherwise take a dim view of Netanyahu and his policies, are bound to be offended. On the back of the Jerusalem brouhaha at the recent Democratic National Convention, some American Jewish voters might take umbrage from such a slight and find that the president’s attitude towards Israel is indeed, as his detractors claim, somewhat lacking.
Not only is it a political mistake, but a practical one, too, when considering the Israeli public. Israelis be affronted, whether they are supporters or detractors of Bibi, and they might also reach conclusions that run contrary to White House intentions. Yes, many will blame Netanyahu for needlessly inflaming tensions with the U.S. president, but they may also reach the conclusion, nonetheless, that Israel has been left truly alone, and must therefore take matters into its own hands.
One can only assume - or at least hope - that the harsh attacks leveled by Netanyahu on Tuesday and the lame excuse given by the White House that “the two leaders are not in the same city at the same time” are part of some mutual macho matchup aimed at making the other side sweat, and that, ultimately, a meeting will be arranged.
At a time when Israel faces such a dire threat as Iran’s nuclear drive and is poised to make such monumental decisions as whether to attack or not, it behooves both leaders to get over their differences and to get together, even if it’s just for appearances sake - even, as is so apparent, if they really can’t stand each other.
Former Foreign Minister Moshe Arens wrote in Haaretz only on Tuesday that “The idea that Obama, if reelected, will let rancor toward Netanyahu get the upper hand in making decisions concerning Israel is ridiculous and reflects complete ignorance of the American system of government.” The next few days will reveal whether Obama is going to prove him right or wrong.
Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev
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