Even in Their Last Meeting, Obama and Netanyahu's Settlement Spat Refused to Go Away

The PM fails once again to convince the U.S. president the settlements are not an obstacle to peace, as the two leaders ignore the elephant in the room: A possible UN Security Council move to secure Obama's legacy.

Netanyahu and Obama during a meeting at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel, September 21, 2016.
Drew Angerer, AFP

New York - Two major disagreements have plagued Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama's relationship since their first meeting in May 2009. The first pertains to Iran's nuclear program. The second deals with the growth of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The first issue lost its relevance at last year's UN General Assembly, where Netanyahu basically admitted in his speech that despite his serious criticism of the deal with Iran, he has put it behind him after failing to stop it. The second disagreement remains more relevant than ever.

A senior official in Netanyahu's entourage, talking to reporters after his meeting with Obama in New York on Wednesday, likened them to Statler and Waldorf, the two grumpy old men from the Muppet Show. They've been sitting around for years, arguing, annoying each other, but they stay together, he said. Netanyahu failed to persuade Obama on the diplomatic campaign he led against Iran. At the end of the day, Netanyahu's statements, speeches and lectures annoyed Obama. At the same time, Obama failed to change Netanyahu's mind on settlement construction. After seven and a half years, Obama's criticism, condemnations and admonishments just irritated Netanyahu.

The meeting between Netanyahu and Obama dealt with many other issues aside from the settlements. Mainly, the two discussed Syria and sensitive issues concerning the tightening of intelligence and military cooperation between the two countries. After all, Israel and the U.S. are in agreement on far more issues than not. The settlements took only several minutes of the meeting, but still made headlines for the umpteenth time. On Wednesday's meeting, which will most likely be their last, the prime minister failed once again to convince Obama that the settlements are not standing in the way of a diplomatic breakthrough with the Palestinians.

Obama and Netanyahu meeting in New York.

Since Netanyahu's return to the Prime Minister's Office he has failed to persuade a single world leader that the settlements don't pose an obstacle to peace and don't threaten to make the two-state solution impossible to implement. Not even one. Opposition to Israeli settlements may be the strongest and most stable consensus in international diplomacy. Even the deeply divided European Union managed to pass, time and time again, joint resolutions on the settlements, reaching an apex in the labeling of settlement products in European shops.

But this does not deter Netanyahu. The criticism voiced by Obama and other leaders against the settlements, he believes, is due to a false perception of the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It drives him out of his mind, in the most literal sense. On the other hand, he thinks, this perception could be changed. With enough effort, this holy cow could be led to the slaughterhouse. For Netanyahu, it's only a matter of time until the world realizes that the reason a Palestinian state does not yet exist is only because of the Palestinian refusal to give up the right of return and recognize Israel as the Jewish nation-state.

The dispute between Netanyahu and Obama on the settlements is also linked to another topic, which was not discussed in their meeting: A possible move by Obama at the UN Security Council after November, in attempt to secure his legacy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The elephant was in the room. Both knew it was there, but chose ignore it. For now.