Inside Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu's Strained Relationship

PHOTO: Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to U.S. President Barack Obama during a bilateral meeting at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel, Sept. 21, 2016, in New York.PlayDrew Angerer/Getty Images
WATCH Trump Administration Suggests Shift in US Policy After a UN Security Council Vote

The White House's decision last week to abstain from voting on a United Nations Security Council resolution that demanded Israel stop settlement construction on occupied Palestinian territory infuriated Benjamin Netanyahu, further straining an already tense relationship between the Israeli prime minister and President Obama.

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The decision to abstain from voting broke with decades of US policy that shunned UN resolutions which condemned the settlements.

Netanyahu took to Twitter to express his displeasure with the US, namely arguing that the UN was not the venue to tackle the issue of the settlements.

The Israeli leader also tweeted that "the Obama administration carried out a shameful anti-Israel ploy at the UN."

And last Sunday, ahead of a weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu claimed that the White House even "demanded" that the resolution be passed.

"From the information that we have, we have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it, stood behind it, coordinated on the wording and demanded that it be passed," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu’s scathing comments are a firm rebuttal to the Obama administration, despite unprecedented security cooperation between Israeli and American intelligence officials. Plus, the comments also follow the September signing of a $38 billion package of military aid for Israel over the next 10 years, the largest ever of its kind.

A History of Butting Heads

The Obama-Netanyahu relationship has been strained from the get-go, fueled by their ideological differences on how to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict, to their respective policies on preventing Iran from making a nuclear bomb.

PHOTO: President Barack Obama stands alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the funeral of Shimon Peres, on Mt. Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem, Sept. 30,2016.Abir Sultan/Reuters
President Barack Obama stands alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the funeral of Shimon Peres, on Mt. Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem, Sept. 30,2016.

Obama, who made resolving the conflict a top administration priority, pushed for a peace pact between Israel and Palestine during a meeting after he took office, urging Netanyahu to freeze or temporarily halt settlement construction in the West Bank and instead work toward a two-state solution.

"Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward -- that’s a difficult issue," Obama said during a joint press conference in May 2009 with Netanyahu following their meeting. "I recognize that, but it’s an important one and it has to be addressed.”

Obama reiterated at the time that the dispute was a “historic opportunity” for Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister to “get serious movement on this issue.”

Netanyahu responded, “We’re ready to do our share. We hope Palestinians will do their share, as well.”

Netanyahu eventually imposed a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction as a gesture to the Palestinians but refused to extend it, despite calls from both the US and Palestine to prolong the settlement freeze and negotiate border and security issues.

In 2011, Netanyahu met with Obama again in the Oval Office to discuss peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, before publicly warning against "a peace based on illusions" and affirming Israel would not accept the return of Palestinian refugees to Israeli soil.

"Everybody knows it’s not going to happen," Netanyahu said during a joint press conference at the White House. "And I think it's time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly, it’s not going to happen."

The two leaders seemingly at an impasse.

"Obviously there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language, and that’s going to happen between friends," Obama said.

Iran Nuclear Deal

Iran, a country with an embittered history involving a US hostage crisis, internal religious and cultural conflicts, and an overall distrust by its regional neighbors like Israel, agreed to halt its nuclear program last year under a deal brokered by the US and other major world powers.

PHOTO: Israeli President Shimon Peres, U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stand together prior to Obama departing from Ben Gurion International Airport, March 22, 2013, in Lod, Israel.Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images
Israeli President Shimon Peres, U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stand together prior to Obama departing from Ben Gurion International Airport, March 22, 2013, in Lod, Israel.

It all began with a giant leap of faith by Obama, who signaled a willingness to speak directly with Iran about its nuclear program and future involvement in the world's economy.

Netanyahu vigorously opposed a nuclear agreement with Iran and had previously said "the worst danger we face is that Iran would develop nuclear military capabilities."

It took a two-year-long high-stakes campaign of diplomacy led by Secretary of State John Kerry and six world powers to finally seal a nuclear deal temporarily nixing Iran’s pathway to making a nuclear bomb, despite many obstacles and critics who vowed to block a potential agreement.

Netanyahu called the deal a “historic mistake” and publicly denounced the president’s efforts before a joint meeting of Congress in 2015 that wasn’t coordinated with the White House.

“This is a bad deal –- a very bad deal. We’re better off without it,” Netanyahu said in his address to Congress.

Settlement on Occupied Land

The UN Security Council resolution demands that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory” and calls the Israeli establishments in Palestinian territory a “flagrant violation” under international law.

The 15-member Council adopted the resolution by a vote of 14 in favor, with the US abstaining rather than vetoing.

PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference, March 20, 2013, in Jerusalem.Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference, March 20, 2013, in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has vowed to not abide by the resolution's terms and accused the Obama Administration of engineering the passage of the resolution in a "complete contradiction" of both American policy and a 2011 pledge from the president to keep the terms of a Middle East peace agreement from being dictated by the United Nations.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of State says this claim is "not true."

"The idea that this was pre-cooked ... is just not accurate," deputy spokesman for the State Department Mark Toner said Tuesday.

"The resolution is not one that we could in good conscience veto," Toner said.

In a press call Friday, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes defended Obama's record of preserving and strengthening Israel's security and democracy.

"President Obama has done more for Israel and its security than any previous US president," Rhodes said. "We exhausted every effort to pursue a two-state solution through negotiations, through direct discussions, through proximity discussions, through confidence-building measures, through a lengthy and exhaustive effort undertaken by Secretary Kerry earlier in the President's second term."

Rhodes added, "We gave every effort that we could to supporting the parties coming to the table," he said. "So within the absence of any meaningful peace process, as well as in the face of accelerated settlement activity that put at risk the viability of a two-state solution, that we took the decision that we did today to abstain on this resolution."

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