President Barack Obama’s likely final meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday did not deviate from years of testy relations between the erstwhile allies, Anadolu Agency reported.
Speaking to reporters before their meeting at New York’s Palace Hotel, the leaders struck a notably upbeat tone that sought to pave over very real differences that arose during their meeting.
Netanyahu lauded the U.S.’s “extensive security and intelligence” cooperation with Israel.
Obama’s efforts to bring about an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement have failed over the nearly eight years he has been in the White House, with the latest push by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry collapsing in 2014, according to Reuters.
U.S. officials have held out the possibility Obama could lay out the rough outlines of a deal – “parameters” in diplomatic parlance – after the Nov. 8 presidential election and before he leaves office in January, but many analysts doubt this would have much effect.
“I don’t think people at large understand the breadth and depth of this cooperation, but I know it. And I want to thank you on behalf of all the people of Israel,” he told Obama.
Washington’s assistance for Tel Aviv recently saw a significant boost with the Obama administration committing $3.8 billion in annual military aid to Israel to continue for the next decade beginning in 2019. That’s up 20 percent from what was already the U.S.’ largest foreign military financing package.
Obama said U.S.-Israeli relations are “unbreakable”, and the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding “allows Israeli planners the kind of certainty in a moment where there’s enormous uncertainty in the region.”
Obama added that he was “interested” in attaining Netanyahu’s assessment of conditions within Israel and the West Bank, saying the U.S. has “concerns” about Israeli settlements.
“Surely Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if Palestinians reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel …(and if) Israel recognizes that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land,” Obama said.
Speaking at the General Assembly annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations for the last time as president, Obama also said Russia was trying to recover “lost glory” through force.
But the niceties apparently did not translate into the meeting itself.
A senior administration official said after the meeting that Obama raised “profound” U.S. concerns regarding the “corrosive effect” that Israeli settlement activity is having on a potential two-state solution, which Netanyahu disputed.
Another official added that the leaders discussed “challenges posed in particular by the violence that is ongoing, the recent spike in violence … the continuance of the settlement activity as it enters the 50th year of occupation.”
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive discussions publicly.
During his final speech to the UN General Assembly, Obama chided Israel saying it “cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land”, marking one of his most strident criticisms of Israeli policy.
The American president entered office hoping to do what has proven elusive for successive American presidents: broker a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.
To date he hasn’t proven an exception to the rule, having running into the realities of Israeli intransigence on settlement expansion and continued violence between the parties.
With only three months left in his presidency, the chances for brokering the ever-elusive peace look slim.