WHITE HOUSE —
The speech was unprecedented.
“My friends, for over a year, we've been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well, this is a bad deal. It's a very bad deal. We're better off without it.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not have been more blunt, as he stood before Congress on March 3 and delivered a pointed critique of U.S.-led efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran.
Netanyahu spoke at the invitation of then-Republican House Speaker John Boehner, as the Obama administration worked to hammer out the agreement between the P5+1 and Iran.
Several Democratic lawmakers boycotted the speech, calling it an affront and an effort to undermine the American president.
President Barack Obama did not meet with Netanyahu during that U.S. visit, citing the impending election in Israel. But less than a month after the Iran deal was reached, he offered a counter to Netanyahu's concerns in an August 5 speech at American University.
“A nuclear-armed Iran is far more dangerous to Israel, to America, and to the world than an Iran that benefits from sanctions relief,” Obama said. “I recognize that Prime Minister Netanyahu disagrees, disagrees strongly. I do not doubt his sincerity. But I believe he is wrong.”
Middle East security
It is against this backdrop that Obama and Netanyahu will meet on November 9 for talks in the Oval Office, their 13th meeting, and their first since the Iran nuclear agreement was reached in July.
“The president looks forward to discussing with the prime minister regional security issues, including implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to peacefully and verifiably prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and countering Tehran’s destabilizing activities in the region, “ White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
Earnest noted the talks would focus not only on Iran, but the fight against the Islamic State militant group and Israel’s security.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu has previously described the level of security cooperation that’s been offered by the Obama administration as ‘unprecedented.’ That, I think, is an indication of the president’s personal commitment to the security of Israel and to the unshakeable bond between our two countries,” he noted in September when announcing the visit.
Earnest also acknowledged that while Obama had expressed a desire to further deepen security cooperation, “there was some reticence on the part of the Israelis initially to engage in those discussions.”
He said he expected the Obama-Netanyahu meeting to help facilitate security talks between low-level officials from both countries.
Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military assistance, at more than $3 billion a year. Israeli officials are said to be looking for that aid to go up to nearly $5 billion.
Talks between the American president and Israeli prime minister come at a time when tensions and violence are escalating in the region.
Since October 1, 11 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks, mostly stabbings.
Israeli security forces have killed 69 Palestinians, including 43 who Israel says were involved in attacks or attempted attacks.
At a news conference last month, Obama condemned the violence and urged both sides to tamp down the rhetoric, while acknowledging U.S. efforts toward a two-state solution have stalled.
“I think it is going to be up to the parties, and we stand ready to assist, to see if they can restart a more constructive relationship. But in the meantime, right now, everybody needs to focus on making sure that innocent people are not being killed,” Obama said.
Daniel Serwer, conflict management professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said with no sign of progress, there is little Obama can do, aside from pressuring Netanyahu on Jewish settlements.
Put off 'real solution'
“The Israelis have essentially decided to put off any real solution to the Palestinian issue," Serwer said.
"Meanwhile, they continue to build settlements, they continue to expand the Israeli presence on the West Bank. And that is certainly unacceptable from the American and Palestinian perspective, but that doesn’t mean it won’t continue,” he added.
Obama may make one final push towards peace before leaving office, said Serwer, a Middle East expert. But without the political will from both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the effort will likely be futile, he added.
“If he (Obama) does that, he won’t be the first person to have tried. George W. Bush tried, Clinton tried – in their last periods in office. He might try. American presidents tend to feel a moral obligation to give this one last push, but I am not seeing on what basis he would try again," Serwer said.