News / Middle East

Obama, Netanyahu Face Challenge of Improving Their Relationship

Obama, Netanyahu Face Challenge of Improving Their Relationshipi
X
March 14, 2013 1:06 AM
The United States and Israel are close allies, but their leaders have had a rocky relationship over the past four years. VOA's Michael Lipin takes a look at the disputes between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Obama, Netanyahu Face Challenge of Improving Their Relationship
The United States and Israel are among the world's closest allies, but their leaders have had a rocky relationship over the past four years.

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have disagreed in public repeatedly on how to deal with Iran's controversial nuclear program and Jewish housing on occupied land claimed by Palestinians. That poses a challenge to the two leaders as they prepare to meet in Israel this month.

Their first major dispute began in Cairo in June 2009. In a speech to the Arab world, Obama criticized Israel's policy of building Jewish homes on West Bank land the Palestinians want for a state.

"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," Obama said.

Days later, Netanyahu responded by saying Israel needs to let settlers "lead normal lives" - a euphemism for building more homes.

Disagreeing on Jerusalem

In March 2010, Israel approved new housing in Palestinian-claimed East Jerusalem as Vice President Joe Biden visited the country. Biden quickly condemned the Israeli move at Obama's request, saying it undermined the trust needed to begin Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Netanyahu rejected that condemnation. In remarks to U.S. pro-Israel group AIPAC in Washington, he said the Jewish people have a right to build anywhere in what they consider to be their united capital.

"Everyone knows that these neighborhoods (of East Jerusalem) will be part of Israel in any peace settlement," Netanyahu said.

When the Israeli prime minister went to the White House the next day, President Obama appeared to snub him. There was no official photo of their meeting.

Aaron David Miller, vice president of the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said these incidents were signs of deteriorating relations.

"This is the worst relationship between an American president and an Israeli prime minister in the history of U.S.-Israel relations," Miller said. "Menachem Begin and Jimmy Carter had tensions, Yitzhak Shamir and George H.W. Bush had tensions, but they found a way to work together. Obama and Netanyahu have not."

Failed peace effort

Obama brought Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House for peace talks in September 2010.

But the initiative collapsed as Netanyahu ended a 10-month freeze on West Bank housing starts and Abbas protested by refusing further talks.

Obama tried to revive the process in May 2011. In a speech at the State Department, he publicly endorsed a longstanding Palestinian demand.

"The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states," he said.

A day later, Netanyahu challenged the president's position during a face-to-face White House meeting in front of the cameras.

"While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines because these lines are indefensible," he said.

Election interference?

More tension surfaced in July 2012, when Netanyahu warmly greeted visiting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a critic of Obama's policy on Israel. Obama supporters accused the Israeli leader of taking sides in the U.S. election.

Supporters of Netanyahu made the same accusation against the U.S. president prior to Israel's election in January. Earlier that month, American political commentator Jeffrey Goldberg had quoted Obama as saying "Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are."

After Netanyahu was asked to form the next Israeli government, Obama agreed to make his first presidential visit to Israel.

Motives for cooperation

Miller said the U.S. president wants to see if the Israeli prime minister can work with him to resolve regional problems.

"Obama stands to be the American president on whose watch Iran either gets the (nuclear) bomb or has to be bombed (by him), and he also stands to be the American president on whose watch the (Israeli-Palestinian) two-state solution expires," he said. "Prime Minister Netanyahu was weakened by the Israeli election and understands that he has same two problems."

Both leaders accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian energy program and refuse to rule out military strikes to stop it. But, Obama has said more time is needed for sanctions and diplomacy, while Netanyahu has demanded the setting of a deadline for action.

Enduring partnership

Miller said those differences have not weakened the basis of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

"It does not really matter what happens at the top (of the leaderships)," Miller said. "The security cooperation continues to improve, the institutional ties deepen. The public dimension also is important, with the American Jewish community playing a critical role in orchestrating (U.S. support for Israel). But, the foundation of that support lies in non-Jewish elites and the general public."

While in Jerusalem, Obama is expected to dine with Netanyahu under the media spotlight. The world will be watching to see if they can move closer to achieving peace in the Middle East.


Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs