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POLITICS: PennAve

The history behind the awkward Obama-Benjamin Netanyahu relationship

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Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Barack Obama,Israel,PennAve,United Nations,Middle East,Benjamin Netanyahu,Foreign Policy,Gaza

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have never been best friends. Their frosty relationship, which has come under the microscope amid the bloodshed in Gaza, is complicated. However, the allies don’t hate each other to the degree that has been suggested by critics in both camps.

But the lows have certainly been lower than the highs — and more constant.

Here's a look at how the two leaders have arrived at yet another point at which both U.S. and Israeli officials are questioning whether the Obama-Netanyahu connection is beyond repair.

July 2008: Then-Sen. Obama travels to Israel as a presidential candidate, where he pledges to work on ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “from the minute I’m sworn into office.” Israeli officials are wary of Obama’s possible election, especially after they had established cozy ties with many in President George W. Bush’s administration. Netanyahu takes over the top Israeli post a few months later, a decade after his first term as prime minister.

June 2009: It doesn’t take long for Obama and Netanyahu to get off to a rocky start. Obama gives a speech in Cairo in an attempt to make inroads with the Muslim community. The president says that the U.S. “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements” on land occupied during the Six-Day War in 1967, which Palestinians say is their territory. Obama tries to walk back his remarks, but the damage is done.

March 2010: Vice President Joe Biden travels to Israel — at the same time, Israel decides to move forward with settlements on land claimed by Palestinians in East Jerusalem. The vice president rips the decision; Netanyahu counters that it wasn’t his call and Israeli-Palestinian peace talks look like even more of a long shot.

May 2011: In what likely will go down as the most awkward Oval Office meeting of Obama’s presidency, Netanyahu lectures the president on why Israel cannot accept pre-1967 borders with the Palestinians. The sermon, of sorts, lasts for a painful seven minutes, as Obama quietly stews in front of the television cameras. White House officials are furious with Netanyahu for embarrassing the president.

September 2011: Obama comes out against the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations, which is welcomed by Netanyahu and senior Israeli officials. Netanyahu calls Obama’s statement a “badge of honor.” The president also tones down his push for Israelis to halt their disputed settlements in Palestinian territories.

September 2011: Obama helps secure the release of Israelis trapped in the country's embassy in Cairo during an Egyptian protest. “This was a decisive and fateful moment,” Netanyahu says of Obama. “He said, 'I will do everything I can.' And so he did. He used every considerable means and influence of the United States to help us. We owe him a special measure of gratitude."

November 2011: So much for the friendly talk. Obama is overheard on a hot mic at the G-20 summit in France mocking Netanyahu. “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day,” Obama tells French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

September 2012: Obama declines to meet with Netanyahu on the sidelines of a U.N. meeting in New York. The Israelis accuse the White House of snubbing Netanyahu, while the president says it was a scheduling issue. The diplomatic squabble comes as Netanyahu says the U.S. is being too soft with Iran.

November 2012: Netanyahu does everything short of endorsing Republican Mitt Romney for the presidency, talking up the former Massachusetts governor, his former colleague at a Boston consulting firm. Obama goes on to win the election, and both sides call for a reset in the relationship — but few people actually believe them.

March 2013: During Obama's first presidential visit to Israel, he and Netanyahu surprisingly align on Iran’s nuclear capabilities. "I think that there’s a misunderstanding about time,” Netanyahu says. “If Iran decides to go for a nuclear weapon — that is, to actually manufacture the weapon — then it will take them about a year.” Obama gives a similar assessment, prompting speculation that the two leaders are on better terms — or at least better at hiding how much they dislike one another.

July 2014: Senior Obama administration officials learn that Israel has secretly been obtaining ammunition from the Pentagon, further eroding the U.S. influence on the intensifying clash in Gaza between the Israelis and Hamas. Israeli officials begin leaking criticisms of Secretary of State John Kerry over his failed attempts to produce a cease-fire.

August 2014: Obama is forced to come to the defense of his secretary of state. "[Kerry] has endured on many occasions really unfair criticism,” Obama says. “There shouldn’t be a bunch of complaints and second-guessing about, 'well, it hasn’t happened yet,' or nitpicking before he’s had a chance to complete his efforts. Because, I tell you what, there isn’t any other country that’s going in there and making those efforts.” The next day, it’s revealed that Netanyahu told the White House "not to ever second guess me again" on how to deal with Hamas. And days later, Obama and Netanyahu have what Israeli officials describe as another “combative call.”

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Author:

Brian Hughes

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner

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