Obama, Netanyahu to Meet For First Time Since Iran Deal Showdown

President Obama will meet with Netanyahu at the White House Monday.

ByAlexander Mallin
November 09, 2015, 7:59 AM

— -- President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are scheduled to meet at the White House Monday for their first sit-down since a very public spat over the now-secure Iranian nuclear deal.

Both sides are expected to take steps to smooth over the rocky divide, but the meeting comes as new controversies have surrounded the two leaders, whose contentious relationship has been defined by a history of chilly encounters in the Oval Office.

The New Hire

Just last week a recently appointed spokesperson for Netanyahu suggested on his Facebook page that Obama was "anti-semitic," and compared Secretary of State John Kerry's mental state to that of a preteen.

The spokesman, Dr. Ran Baratz, was forced to apologize at the urging of the prime minister's office.

"These postings were written hastily and sometimes humorously, in a manner appropriate for a private person writing on the Internet," Baratz said. "It is clear to me that in a government position one must act and express oneself differently."

While the White House said Baratz's apology was "readily apparent," Vice President Joe Biden took a much harsher tone in a speech Saturday at the Union for Reform Judaism convention in Orlando, Florida.

"There is no excuse, there should be no tolerance for any member or employee of the Israeli administration referring to the President of United States in derogatory terms. Period, period, period, period," Biden said.

The Iran Deal

Front and center will be discussion over how the U.S. can ease Israel's safety concerns in the region now that sanctions against Iran are being rolled back.

"There's just nothing that can be done to cover up the fact that we had a policy difference on the Iranian nuclear issue," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said.

In a fiery speech to the U.N. General Assembly just a month ago, Netanyahu stood in silence for 40 seconds after chastising leaders for celebrating the nuclear deal, quoting Iranian leaders who have continued to call for Israel's destruction.

PHOTO: Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, speaks at the United Nations General Assembly on Oct. 1, 2015 in New York.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, speaks at the United Nations General Assembly on Oct. 1, 2015 in New York.
Getty Images

"I'm gravely concerned that the nuclear deal with Iran will prove to be the marriage certificate of that unholy union," Netanyahu said at the time.

Meanwhile, Obama has been equally blunt in saying Netanyahu is "wrong" in his opposition to the deal, and has taken Netanyahu to task over his attempts to derail the deal, especially his speech to Congress earlier this year.

Rhodes says both sides will attempt to smooth over the dispute at Monday's meeting.

"What both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have been able to do together is demonstrate that even as they can have a difference on an issue as consequential as the Iranian nuclear deal, they can direct their governments to cooperate at an unprecedented level in ways that contribute very meaningfully to Israel and its security," Rhodes said.

The Israeli-Palestinian Stalemate

But even as they try to heal deep divisions over Iran, the White House has bluntly made clear its differences with Netanyahu over Israeli-Palestinian peace will not be solved.

In a conference call with reporters Thursday, senior White House officials acknowledged openly that the prospect for achieving a final two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians would not be possible in Obama’s remaining time in office.

It follows years of attempted negotiations and public statements by the U.S. as conflict has flared and subsided between the two sides, including the most recent wave of violence in the occupied West Bank.

PHOTO: Palestinians run after Israeli soldiers used tear gas to disperse them during clashes with Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem, West Bank on Oct. 16, 2015.
Palestinians run after Israeli soldiers used tear gas to disperse them during clashes with Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem, West Bank on Oct. 16, 2015.
Muhesen Amren/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

"This is really the first time since the first term of the Clinton administration where we have an administration that faces a reality where the prospect of a negotiated two-state solution is not in the cards in the time that's remaining," NSC coordinator for the Middle East Rob Malley said.

A major point of frustration for the Obama administration came during Israel’s elections, when Netanyahu promised voters there would be no Palestinian state if he was reelected, and on election day took to the airwaves to warn that Arab voters were coming out "in droves," language that he would apologize for after his victory.

While the U.S. has been quick to harshly condemn the recent stabbings and other attacks against Israelis in the West Bank, the White House has also called for a halt in the expansion of settlement activity that Palestinians argue provokes the violence.

"Settlement activity is not consistent with moving toward a two-state solution," Malley said. "I don't know that that will be any news to Prime Minister Netanyahu to hear that."

The White House also publicly criticized Netanyahu after his recent suggestion that the leader of the Palestinians in the 1940s urged Adolf Hitler to exterminate Jews in the Holocaust.

"I don't think there is any doubt here at the White House who is responsible for the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews," White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said in response. "We believe that inflammatory rhetoric needs to stop."

Despite all these issues, the public will likely not be privy to how the leaders talk through these differences in Monday's meeting.

At the end of the White House press briefing Friday, reporters asked Earnest why the White House had ruled out holding a joint news conference with Obama and Netanyahu.

"I'm not able to say why, but we can look into it for you," Earnest said.

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