By Lock Bailey
If opposites truly do attract, then there could be no better chemistry than that of US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Unfortunately, opposites make the poorest couplings in foreign relations—and Bibi and Obama prove this true.
Obama is quite left and Netanyahu is quite right, to understate these antipodal leaders. Netanyahu showed favor in Republican nominee Mitt Romney in the 2008 elections, for example (years earlier the two of them worked in The Boston Consulting Group). He is also loyal to the far-right Likud party and was voted in as Prime Minister for his hawkish foreign policy and his years of hardened political experience. He served several years in the military and has taken posts as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Finance and as Prime Minister in 1996-1999.
Americans too see Obama as an undergraduate in the political academia—despite being in his second term. Many see Netanyahu as the professor emeritus in comparison. They differ on big issues as well. Obama shows sympathy to the Palestinians as he stated in clean prose, saying “it is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own”. Not even in his sleep would Netanyahu murmur this.
Many say Obama is anti-Israeli for this and other statements. Yet he has never lowered the US military aid that pours in each year to Israel and he told the world in his famed Cairo speech and in various times following that Israel is never alone as the US is never apart from it. He did fail to fly next door to Israel and say a quick “Hi” to Binyamin however. And Binyamin noticed.
In fact, in this hot and cold relationship, the two leaders often snub each other. One colossal snub from Netanyahu to Obama and the United Nations and the Palestinians occurred when Netanyahu pushed Israeli settlement of 3,000 homes into the Gaza Strip in December 2012. As it is a violation of international law, The Hague condemned the decision. Netanyahu approved the settlement only a day after the UN voted 138 to 9 with 41 abstentions to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state, thus giving Palestine international legitimacy.
This is not the first time Netanyahu ordered building on Palestinian land. In his first term as prime minister, Netanyahu pushed Israeli settlement of 6,000 homes in Har Homa—Palestinian land taken in the 1967 Six Day war.
In 2012, US vice president Joe Biden was in Israel planning to dine with Netanyahu on the day of the settlements. Upon hearing the news, and no doubt on order from the president, Biden showed up to the dinner ninety minutes late.
Later that year, Netanyahu traveled to the White House only for Obama to hand him a list of demands to further the peace process between Israel and Palestine and then said, ‘I’m going to the residential wing to have dinner with Michelle and the girls’. But he made sure to let Netanyahu know that ‘I’m still around’. From this and other snubs, the Israeli paper Haaretz quoted Senator Ted Cruz of Texas saying, “President Obama has been the president most hostile to the nation of Israel in modern times”.
Perhaps the issue eliciting the most tension between the two world leaders is the state of Iran. In the fall of last year, Netanyahu urged Obama to continue with the sanctions on Iran and not to lift an inch until there is a halt to uranium enrichment, the removal of all enriched material in the country and the closure of both the Fordo and the Arak reactors. Until then, intensify the sanctions.
Some sanctions were lifted in January 2014. The European Union loosened holds on Iranian banks as well as oil embargoes. Iran in return has halted its uranium enrichment and is preparing for international inspections. Iran’s President Rouhani said they are signatories to the UN’s non-proliferation treaty and are wholeheartedly committed to it saying ‘Our religion and principles tell us not to seek weapons of mass destruction’ but that the nuclear facilities are to generate electricity and to produce isotopes to treat cancer patients.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is not impressed and neither are many western leaders. He said, ‘The interim agreement [lifting sanctions on Iran]…does not prevent Iran from realising its intention to develop nuclear weapons’ neither its intent to erase the state of Israel from the map.
The United States approved of the sanctions, but remains skeptical. Its skepticism is shown in its continued support of Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad. In 2012, soon before her death in Syria, journalist Marie Colvin wrote on Mossad‘s alleged assassinations of five Iranian scientists. Each death shows Israeli intelligence trademarks—one example being the use of magnetic bombs. These were placed on the vehicles of Iranian scientists by passing motorcyclists only to explode minutes later killing the passengers within. Israel feigns ignorance of the murders.
The tensions between Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu increase with every concession between Iran and the United States. The disagreements further with the layout of the ostensible plans for the Palestinian state. And it helps the rocky relationship very little to hear French President Sarkozy (over an unknown open mic) refer to Netanyahu as a “liar” and then for President Obama to respond by saying “You’re tired of him, what about me? I have to deal with him every day.”