U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, allies who nonetheless have had a testy relationship, said Wednesday that their two countries have an "unbreakable bond."
The two leaders met at the United Nations General Assembly, likely their last get-together before Obama leaves office and with a Middle East peace settlement as elusive as ever.
Netanyahu said the Jewish state has "no greater friend than the United States of America." He thanked Obama for the recent U.S. agreement on a 10-year, $38 billion military assistance package for Israel, the biggest military aid pact for a foreign country ever agreed to by Washington.
Obama said the U.S. link with Israel is "based on common values, family ties and a recognition that the Jewish state is one of our most important allies." He said the U.S. agreed to the extended military aid plan because "we want to make sure Israel has the full capability it needs in order to keep the Israeli people safe."
But Obama also said the U.S. has "some concerns about the settlements" the Israeli government has continued to erect in occupied territories, construction of housing that the U.S. believes inhibits the prospects for creation of a Palestinian state, and the ability to reach a peace agreement.
But the American leader said it is "important to keep alive the possibility of a stable and secure Israel that is at peace with its neighbors."
Obama took over the American presidency in 2009 and vowed to the U.N., "I will not waver in my pursuit of peace" between the Jewish state and Palestinians.
But with four months left in his White House tenure, Obama has, according to aides, abandoned pursuit of a new peace initiative, although he could yet lay out an American plan for a two-state settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, possibly after the November 8 election to pick his successor, or offer a new U.N. Security Council resolution.
Obama gave short shrift to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his final U.N. General Assembly speech Tuesday, saying only, "Surely, Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if Palestinians reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel, but Israel recognizes that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land."
Even as the U.S. continues to voice its opposition to the West Bank settlements, Israel has demanded tighter Palestinian security to crack down on militants responsible for a raft of stabbings and shootings against Israelis in recent months.
Obama and Netanyahu have often had a contentious relationship, the low point of which occurred in 2015 when Netanyahu, without informing the White House ahead of time, arranged a trip to Washington to tell Congress why Israel opposed the international agreement that the Obama administration was negotiating with Iran to curb Tehran's nuclear weapons development.
The U.S. has also been dismayed at various times with Netanyahu's comments suggesting he did not favor the two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.