After Seven Years, Netanyahu Discovers the United States

When the PM spoke after his meeting with Barack Obama, it was hard to believe that he was the same man who, up until a few weeks ago, refused any dialogue with the U.S. administration and branded Obama a bitter enemy.

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Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Barack Obama in the Oval Office, November 9, 2015.Credit: Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

A short while after he left the gates of the White House, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived to brief the reporters who accompanied him on the trip to Washington. During most of his previous trips to Washington over the past seven years, Netanyahu would arrive at the briefing nervous or grumbling. This time, despite his hoarse voice and the evident fatigue on this face, it was hard not to notice his good mood. It wasn't just the fact that he showed up without a tie – the relaxed air around him bordered on euphoria.

"The meeting was held in a good, constructive and to-the-point atmosphere," he said at the start of the briefing. "What you saw on the outside was evident inside as well. It was one of the best meetings I've had with the president and I think he would say the same." After Netanyahu said this, he stopped for a moment and turned to Ambassador Ron Dermer who was sitting beside him, looking for confirmation. "Right, Ron? What do you say? You were in all the meeting." Dermer, somewhat flustered, nodded in approval.

Like he did in front of the cameras at the Oval Office a few hours earlier, Netanyahu continued to shower praise on U.S. President Barack Obama. More compliments that I can recall him utter since the two began working together. "I really mean it when I say I appreciate what Obama has done for the security of Israel," he said. 

When Netanyahu spoke it was hard to believe that the man sitting in the room is that same man that up until a few weeks ago refused any dialogue with the U.S. administration and branded President Obama as a bitter enemy. 

"Now that the nuclear crisis with Iran is over, we look ahead at what needs to be done," Netanyahu said. "No one is hiding the past differences, and now the practical question is what we do from here. We have a common interest to prevent Iran from violating the agreement. We have an interest that the restrictions that apply to Iran do indeed apply. And we want to cooperate on this matter."

Some of Netanyahu's statements sounded almost imaginary in their pragmatism. In some parts Netanyahu sounded like some of his political rivals who have criticized him over the past few years for how he conducted the relations with the White House, or like most of the analyses written in newspapers about his treatment of Obama.

"We have an interest to cooperate with the U.S. in stabilizing the Middle East – around ISIS and around Hezbollah as well," Netanyahu added. "I didn't feel some kind of pent-up tension on the president's part. There are things we agree on and things we don’t agree on. That was also the tone and the essence of the meeting. The direction was very productive. Not a symposium or a debate club. There were times in the past where that was the case, but this time it wasn't that kind of meeting."

One must welcome Netanyahu's attitude, and hope it's not a one-time thing. But those who listened to him on Monday could not help but ask where he's been until today. Why did he need to wage a relentless war over the past seven years against the leader of Israel's biggest ally? One possible conclusion is that the arrival at a nuclear deal with Iran – the biggest point of contention between the two leaders – did a great service to Israel-U.S. relations. From the moment the differences are no longer relevant, the emotions can be put aside and a logical conduct can be resumed.

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