Washington disappointed: Netanyahu didn't present concrete steps
U.S. officials say expected Netanyahu to present new terms to push peace talks forward during visit.
The White House expressed disappointment in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent visit to Washington, with officials saying that they had hoped that the prime minister would present a concrete plan to scale back Israeli construction in West Bank settlements, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
Speaking at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in Washington on Monday, Netanyahu urged the Palestinians to resume peace talks with Israel, but failed to offer any new commitment regarding the settlements, which the Palestinians have demanded be halted as a precondition for talks, nor did he present any new terms for the talks.
"We had an idea that he might bring something out to push the process forward," one U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal. "But he's kept it in his pocket."
In his address, Netanyahu also appeared to resist U.S. pressure to promote the two-state solution. He said he was committed to two states living side by side, but stressed that the central issues - the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes from which they were expelled and certain territorial claims - would not be on the table. "They must abandon the fantasy of flooding Israel with refugees, give up irredentist claims to the Negev and Galilee, and declare unequivocally that the conflict is finally over," Netanyahu said in his address.
U.S. officials said the White House had held off until Netanyahu was on a plane to Washington before confirming a meeting between the prime minister and U.S. President Barack Obama in efforts to pressure the Israeli leader to take a more conciliatory line.
Following the meeting Monday night, the White House issued only a brief statement saying the president and Mr. Netanyahu discussed a number of issues in the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship, as well as how to move forward on Middle East peace.
The mystery that shrouded the meeting sparked a wave of speculations. American commentators argued that the White House's refusal to even supply a photo opportunity of the two leaders indicated the American president's dissatisfaction with Netanyahu's policies.
So far, no photos have been released from the meeting. The only photos available are those of Netanyahu entering the White House, and leaving it. The government photographer, the only one allowed into the meeting, was prohibited from making the photos public.
The late hour of the meeting, which was scheduled at the very last minute while Netanyahu was already on a plane to Washington, and the fact that the prime minister was transported in a simple van, and not the official government vehicle that usually takes world leaders to meetings with the president, also indicated that something was amiss.
The bureaus of both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was present during the second part of the meeting, canceled the briefings that they had planned to give to the press following the meeting. They also canceled planned radio interviews. According to Israeli sources, the cancellations stemmed from U.S. displeasure with headlines in the Israeli media suggesting that Netanyahu bended Obama's will. Netanyahu's media advisers wanted to appease the Americans, and therefore cancelled the briefings, sources said.
Senior officials in the Obama administration also accused Netanyahu of suggesting that he had the power to pressure Obama with various lobbies within the U.S. political arena. The White House views this sentiment as a "re-run" of Netanyahu's behavior during Bill Clinton's administration. This issue apparently came up in the meeting between Netanyahu and Obama.
"The administration was upset because Netanyahu's camp forced the meeting on them, and that it was scheduled in accordance with Netanyahu's schedule, and not theirs," said one of the Jewish leaders at the GA conference.