Bibi woos America
ISRAELI PRIME Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Jews across the globe to unite to “secure the Jewish state” on Tuesday at the annual Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Washington.
Mr Netanyahu told his audience of more than 3,000 Jewish representatives: “No matter what disagreements there have been within the Jewish community, maintaining the unity of our people is of paramount importance.
“Now more than ever we must work together to unite the Jewish people and secure the Jewish state.”
Fresh from his meeting with US President Barack Obama the day before, Mr Netanyahu used his speech to reaffirm Israel’s “unbreakable bond” with the United States.
He said: “Israel has no better friend than America and America has no better friend than Israel.”
IT WAS, said Benjamin Netanyahu after the two-and-a-half hour meeting with Barack Obama in the White House on Monday, the best meeting yet between the two leaders.
As they had not met for more than 13 months, and the intervening period had been one of the most difficult for the Israeli-US strategic relationship, the bar had been set quite low.
However, the meeting did seem to achieve its main objective: it put ties back on track and set a more cordial tone for the last year of Mr Obama’s presidency.
No one is expecting the two men to become the friends they have failed to be for the past seven years, but each of them at least said what was required.
Senior US officials said that while they no longer believed there was any prospect of a peace treaty with the Palestinians during Mr Obama’s term, they expected Israel to take steps to ensure that a two-state solution is still viable.
Mr Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting: “I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples: a demilitarised Palestinian state that recognises the Jewish state,” delivering on a rhetorical level at least.
For his part, Mr Obama said: “As I’ve said repeatedly, the security of Israel is one of my top foreign policy priorities,” adding that “it is my strong belief that Israel has not just the right but an obligation to protect itself”.
Much of the meeting was devoted to addressing their joint concerns over the deteriorating situation in Syria.
However, it would be premature to interpret the bonhomie as a sign that the issues between the two countries have been settled.
For Israel, life after the Iran deal means actively checking that the Islamic Republic confirms to all the limitations on its nuclear programme.
The Obama administration will demand from the Israelis more concrete steps on the Palestinian front and probably some evidence to show that Israel is still committed to the two-state solution. Even on the non-contentious issue of preserving Israel’s “qualitative military edge”, it is still unclear how much cash the US is willing to put towards new weapons systems for the Jewish state.
Israel has requested that the military aid, currently an annual payment of $3.1 billion, be expanded by as much as $2 billion. Administration officials have hinted that Israel will have to make do with a much smaller rise.
The main message coming out of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting, however, is more about tone than substance.
It was above all a clear indication that in his last year of office, Mr Obama is not planning any new diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East, not while he has Syria to deal with. Nor is he interested in more tension with his Israeli counterpart. It is now officially election year in the US and he does not want to harm Hillary Clinton’s campaign with a crisis with Israel. In a column for the Forward last week, Mrs Clinton wrote that if elected, she would invite Mr Netanyahu to Washington in the first month of her presidency. He is already counting down the days until he meets a new president in the Oval Office.
Patching up for the cameras: Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama shake hands, having not met for 13 months