Think back to 2015, when former US president Barack Obama refused to meet with Netanyahu when he came to Washington, and more.
The Jerusalem Post -By TOVAH LAZAROFF
US President Joe Biden and Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett shake hands during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, US Augus 7, 2021.(photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)
It’s a form of diplomatic amnesia for Likud politicians to criticize Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s first trip to Washington, and to fantasize that his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu would have fared better.
Think back to 2015, when former US president Barack Obama refused to meet with Netanyahu when he came to Washington.
That was the time Netanyahu threw diplomatic protocol to the winds and created a crisis with the White House. Netanyahu gave a speech before the US Congress, in which he appealed to its members to oppose Obama’s Iran deal. As a result, he was shut out of the White House.
The slight was best highlighted at the time by actor Rob Lowe. He noted that the White House rejected the idea of a Netanyahu parley, just when Obama had met with YouTube star GloZell Green who had filmed herself eating fruit loops in a milk-filled bathtub.
“Is it true that a woman who eats cereal out of a bathtub gets to meet with the president, and the prime minister of Israel does not?” Lowe pondered on Twitter.
Then there were the backstories of the tension between Obama and Netanyahu, as highlighted in a Jeffrey Goldberg article in The Atlantic, in which he recalled a sharp retort Obama gave Netanyahu when the president felt he was condescending.
“Bibi, you have to understand something,” Obama said. “I’m the African American son of a single mother, and I live here, in this house. I live in the White House. I managed to get elected president of the United States. You think I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I do.”
There were the times that Netanyahu scheduled trips to the United States without knowing whether he would get an audience at all, receiving confirmation only at the last moment.
The seeds of the eight-year diplomatic drama were set from the first, when Netanyahu headed to the White House in May 2009 already knowing he would be at odds on two topics — Iran and the Palestinians — with a US president he barely knew.
Pundits speculated that the meeting would not go well prior to the moment Netanyahu walked into the White House, and then spoke in its aftermath of the already apparent tension between the two men.
Al Jazeera even interviewed a specialist who analyzed how the two men sat in the meeting to show the tension between them.
Just one month later Obama flew to the Middle East and skipped right over Israel, a country he did not visit until 2013.
The tension was particularly noteworthy because Obama in 2009 and at least through 2014 had every reason to have a positive relationship with Netanyahu, given that he had initially prioritized resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
True, Biden and Netanyahu have a four-decade friendship. Biden loves to repeat the anecdote in which he once wrote Netanyahu on the back of a photograph, “Bibi, I don’t agree with a damn thing you say, but I love you.”
But it was precisely that love mixed with political discord that would have been a problem here. The two men know each other too well. Given the crises that Biden faces and the possibility of negative optics from a Netanyahu meeting, its unlikely that he would have even invited him to the White House at this juncture.
Netanyahu excelled at seizing the stage for his own political purposes, even if it came at the expense of his political allies and friends. That is particularly true with regard to Iran. What would have been a better bully pulpit on Iran at this moment, than a White House meeting?
Nor can one make a comparison here with Netanyahu’s relationship with US President Donald Trump, who was both a friend and a policy ally, with whom discord was scant.
Netanyahu arrived at the White House in February 2017 just a mere month after Trump took office, and it was a bromance from the start, though it was the flowering of seeds sown long ago.
A Netanyahu meeting played well for Trump with his political evangelical base, but a Biden-Netanyahu hug would have boomeranged, generating problems for the president with the left-wing flank of his Democratic party.
With no peace process in the offing and no reason for Biden to take a political risk, he likely would have left Netanyahu waiting for an invite.
Those who doubt this should reflect on how it took Biden almost a month to call Netanyahu after taking office in January.
Political pundits trying to paint a picture of a rosy Netanyahu White House visit should take into account that he would not have made it to the front lawn.
Biden invited Bennett to the White House at this particular juncture solely because the two men do not know each other, a rationale that would not have been in play with Netanyahu.
He is not pushing for a renewed peace process, so there was no other rationale.
It was an easier invite because Bennett represents an Israeli government that Biden can better embrace than the right-wing one that Netanyahu would have headed.
This government’s diversity creates a democratic bridge between the two men, at a time when they are at odds on the same two issues that created tension between Netanyahu and Obama: Iran and the Palestinians.
The disagreements were there, of course, but unlike in 2009, they did not overshadow the central theme.
Here was a new Israeli prime minister meeting a US president for his first time, offering a reset button.
This was a script for a drama which only Bennett and not Netanyahu could star in.