The U.S.-Israel relationship on defrost
The White House will show some love to Israel next Tuesday -- when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visits the White House -- as part of an effort to improve chemistry after a March encounter widely described as a “snub” by President Obama.
But to make real headway with a suspicious Israeli public, Obama will have to go to Israel. And the betting among some U.S. and Israeli officials is that such a visit could happen in late August or early September – around when U.S.-mediated “proximity talks” between Israelis and Palestinians are slated to transition into more direction negotiations. “The president will come at a significant moment, when something has been achieved of substance,” predicts one Israeli official.
That Obama has yet to visit the Jewish state during his presidency has added to Israeli feelings that he is cooler and more distant than his predecessors. Some “daylight” between the two countries was useful, Obama told American Jewish leaders at a White House last September, because it enhanced America’s position as a mediator. But that daylight increased to a gaping hole during Netanyahu’s last visit, because of sharp disagreements over Israel’s plan to build new housing on land that’s officially part of East Jerusalem.
The two sides are still wide apart on policy issues related to the peace process. The White House, however, seems to have decided to reduce the appearance of friction with a series of outreach efforts. The latest instance of the charm offensive came yesterday, when White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, in Israel for his son’s long-schedule bar mitzvah, stopped by Netanyahu’s office and invited him to the White House. Emanuel was effusive in his expressions of goodwill, political and personal. He noted that he had brought his family to Israel to “expose them to the history in a very intimate way.” In the past, Emanuel has had a testy relationship with Netanyahu, who, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, privately described Emanuel as a “self-hating Jew” following his criticisms of Israeli policy.
Next week’s meeting promises smiles and polite expressions of mutual support, with a televised joint meeting with the press. The Israeli government has been advised, according to one official, “Rest assured, there will not be any suggestion of a snub.”
| May 27, 2010; 1:32 PM ET
Categories: Ignatius | Tags: David Ignatius
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