NEW YORK – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday at 6 P.M. Israel time. Senior officials in Netanyahu’s entourage said he will use the White House meeting to tell Obama that the international war against Islamic State must not result in concessions to Iran in the ongoing negotiations over its nuclear program.
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The prime minister told U.S. Jewish leaders on Tuesday that he also intends to raise with Obama the possibility of bringing Arab states into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, a proposal he made in his speech this week before the UN General Assembly.
The two men last met seven months ago. Wednesday’s meeting is expected to be very brief compared to their earlier ones. Only an hour and a quarter has been allocated to it, and it won’t be followed by a joint luncheon. At the start of the meeting, both leaders are expected to deliver short statements for the media, but will not answer questions.
During the summer’s war in Gaza, tension between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office intensified due to sharp American criticism of Israeli attacks that caused civilian casualties. At one point, the White House even froze a shipment of Hellfire missiles intended for the air force to signal its displeasure with Israel over these Palestinian casualties.
Nevertheless, Wednesday’s meeting is taking place at a time when neither Netanyahu nor Obama has any interest in a public confrontation. On the American side, this is due to the Congressional elections in November. On Israel’s side, it stems from a desire to maintain coordination with Washington over the Palestinian Authority’s plan for new unilateral steps at the United Nations, the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the six powers, and the battle against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Sources in the Prime Minister’s Bureau said Netanyahu would like the meeting to focus first and foremost on the Iranian issue and then on Islamic State, and only get to the Palestinian issue at the end. They also said that even though the prime minister didn’t voice support for establishing a Palestinian state in his UN address on Monday, this does not reflect a change in his policy or an abandonment of the support for a two-state solution that he voiced in his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University.
Presses on against Hamas
In a meeting with Jewish leaders in New York on Tuesday, Netanyahu pressed on with his diplomatic assault against Hamas, saying the difference between the Palestinian group and Islamic State is only that the latter “beheads people” while Hamas “shoots them in the head.”
Addressing some 300 members of the Jewish Federations of North America, Netanyahu said that he intends to discuss with the president the possibility of involving the Arab states in the peace process with the Palestinians.
The prime minister also mentioned Iran in his speech, saying, “We have to stop ISIS but we have to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons,” adding that the Iranian people are oppressed by their own regime.
Netanyahu also will use the coming three days – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – giving briefings and interviews to leading American commentators, key newspapers and major television networks. In all of these, he will reiterate his talking points about Iran’s nuclear program.
Sources in the Prime Minister’s Bureau said Netanyahu would also use the White House meeting to raise the issue of Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence for spying against America on Israel’s behalf, and urge Obama to commute his sentence.
Later on Tuesday Netanyahu will meet with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The two are expected to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip and the implementation of a plan for Gaza’s reconstruction that was formulated with Robert Serry, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.