The White House finally released on Friday a photograph of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's meeting Monday with U.S. President Barack Obama, after speculation that the lack of a photo opportunity was an intentional slight.
Commentators have suggested that the Obama administration had wished to "humiliate" Netanyahu by not issuing an official photograph of the talks, in order to highlight dissatisfaction over the premier's unwillingness to make further concessions on West Bank settlement construction.
The photograph shows the two leaders in conversation leaning over a table endowed with cookies in the Oval Office private dining room.
The meeting lasted roughly an hour and 40 minutes, of which about an hour was devoted to a tense tete-a-tete between Netanyahu and Obama. Senior officials from both sides were present for the rest.
White House officials said privately that they had wanted a low-profile meeting, so as not to create high expectations and in light of the problems in the Palestinian Authority.Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced last week that he would not run in the upcoming Palestinian presidential elections, citing his frustration with the lack of progress in the peace process with Israel.
Meanwhile, a White House official has called the meeting "very straightforward and a good positive discussion of all the key issues' lacking any drama or big expectations."
But Dr. Stephen Cohen, President of The Institute for Middle East Peace and Development Partners in Peace, called the meeting "a non-meeting."
"They just talked past each other. I don't see how they can save Abbas by just saying that they want to save Abbas," said Cohen, who is also the author of the recently published book Beyond America's Grasp: A Century of Failed Diplomacy in the Middle East.
"There is a way of making him a realistic candidate, but it's very far from what he'll be hearing from Netanyahu and Obama this time."
Cohen said he believes Netanyahu must be faced with the choice between settlement growth and the maintenance of Israeli nuclear ambiguity.
"This old-style method of Senator [George] Mitchell going back and forth trying to move one inch a week didn't take us anywhere," he added, referring to Obama's special envoy to the Middle East.
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