White House insulted Netanyahu refuses to meet Obama as Biden visits Israel
By Bonnie K. Goodman
March 8, 2016 10:47 AM MST
President Barack Obama is getting back what he gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The White House acted surprised on Monday, March 7, 2016, that Netanyahu decided against meeting with Obama. Netanyahu canceled a visit to the United States later this month missing an in person speaking appearance the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference for fear he might interfere with the US presidential primaries going on. The Obama Administration is seeing Netanyahu’s decision as a snub.
Netanyahu is officially citing the presidential primary for his decision on a US visit; the prime minister does not want to meet with the candidates at AIPAC and interfere with the election process. Netanyahu was invited to meet with the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates at the AIPAC conference. Netanyahu chose instead to address the 2016 AIPAC Policy Conference via a satellite feed. The Israel lobby’s annual conference is taking place this year on Sunday, March 20 and lasts until Tuesday, March 22.
The Prime Minister also does not want to go to the US because the ten-year military package is not yet finalized after months of negotiations; Israel is looking for $40 billion in aid plus fund for “air defense systems” this time. This is the third time the military aid package would be renewed, the last time it commenced in 2007 for $30 billion and is set to expire in 2017.
The White House, however, is viewing Netanyahu’s decision as an insult to the president, although Obama will be on his first visit to Cuba during the time Netanyahu was to visit, and Obama snubbed the Israeli Prime Minister for the same reason last year. The new conflict between the two leaders comes as Vice President Joe Biden is set to arrive in Israel to meet Netanyahu in what will be his last official visit to Israel.
National Security Council spokesman Ned Price issued an email statement expressing the administration’s surprise. Price wrote, “We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting, and we were surprised to first learn via media reports that the prime minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit. Reports that we were not able to accommodate the prime minister’s schedule are false.”
There were scheduling problems. However, Netanyahu originally planned to arrive in the US on Sunday, March 20 leaving Israel after the Sabbath. Obama was set to depart for a historic trip to Cuba on March 20 the same day. There were some negotiations between the White House and Prime Minister’s Office about moving up Netanyahu arrival date to Friday, March 18 to enable a meeting with the president. Israeli paper Haaretz reported that in end “no appropriate time was found for the meeting.”
For over a week, the Israeli media was reporting that Netanyahu might not visit the US and appear at the AIPAC conference. The Prime Minister’s Office quickly responded with a statement, “On Monday, news reports suggested that the PM would not be traveling to Washington and erroneously stated that the president was unwilling to meet with the PM. The [prime minister’s office] immediately corrected the erroneous news reports and officially informed the administration that the PM would not be coming to Washington.”
Netanyahu addressed the Knesset on Monday pointing to the still strong-US Israel relationship. Netanyahu pointed to the vice president visit, saying, “Biden’s visit reflects the strength of the relationship between Israel and its largest and most important ally. I heard you eulogize the U.S.-Israel relationship when I stood up against the dangerous deal with Iran. If not for the efforts we made, I’m certain Iran would have had a nuclear weapon today. But it doesn’t, and we will do everything to make sure it will not get one. But there was no such collapse and there won’t be one.”
The latest fight between the leaders of the countries comes as Biden is set to arrive in Israel to discuss military aid and the possibility of renewing the peace process. The Obama Administration is considering seeking a United Nations Security Council Resolution to kick-start the process. Biden will meet with Netanyahu on Wednesday, March 9 as part of his five-country Middle East tour.
The situation resembles last year when then-Speaker of the House of Representatives Republican John Boehner invited Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress to speak against the impending Iran nuclear weapons deal. At that time, the White House fiercely objected to the invitation and Obama refused to meet with Netanyahu citing the proximity to the Israeli election that was occurring three weeks after Netanyahu’s US trip.