US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did everything but come out and call each other liars in separate appearances on Tuesday, just days before the president formally leaves office.
In an interview with Uvda’s Channel 2 that aired in its entirety, Obama disputed Israel’s assertion that Washington took the lead in getting the anti-settlement resolution passed by the UN Security Council last month.
“The facts are that everybody knew, including the Israelis, that the Egyptians – the closest Arab partner to the Israelis – were going to introduce this in coordination with the Palestinians,” Obama said. “We did not prompt it, we did not encourage it.”
He said that descriptions of the US abstention on the resolution as “a stab in Israel’s back” were “hyperbole” that “work well with respect to deflecting attention from the problem of settlements.
They may play well with Bibi’s political base, as well as with the Republican base here in the United States, but they don’t match up with the facts.”
But Netanyahu, speaking to a group of AIPAC leaders he met in Jerusalem on Tuesday, doubled-down on his assertion that the US shepherded through the resolution.
“I want you to know in no uncertain terms, we have unequivocal evidence that the Security Council resolution passed at the UN against Israel was led by the administration. There is no question whatsoever about that,” he said, repeating for emphasis, “no question whatsoever.”
Netanyahu also took sharp issue with something else that Obama said in his interview: that “this idea that this [resolution] is unprecedented, and that the Obama administration is an outlier, is patently false.”
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Obama said that since at least 1978, “it has been established within the United States government that these territories that were obtained in 1967 were occupied territories.
Our policy has been to oppose settlements, that is not unique to me – that is true of both Democratic and Republican administrations prior to me.”
But Netanyahu had a much different take, telling the AIPAC group that this resolution – with its reference to east Jerusalem as occupied territory – was far more than just a reformulation of previous US policy.
“This resolution,” Netanyahu said, “speaks about all territory beyond the 1967 lines as ‘occupied Palestinian territory.’ This is a major break with US policy.”
The premier then went on to quote from former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who said in 1994 that the US opposed a similar UN resolution because of specific references to Jerusalem. “We simply do not support the description of the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war as occupied Palestinian territory,” Netanyahu quoted her as saying.
“So obviously there is a substantive break with previous US policies, and also a procedural break in that the United States said that all matters pertaining to a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be addressed in the Security Council or under UN resolutions,” he said.
Obama was asked if he felt that Netanyahu had deceived him during their relationship, and he replied that he found Netanyahu to be “candid” with him, though Obama acknowledged that some of the conversations between them have “been heated at times.”
The president said that he felt that Netanyahu has “been shaped by a very personal history, as well as a collective history, that defines strength as not giving ground under any circumstance.”
The president acknowledged that Israel is in a “very tough neighborhood,” adding that this is why “I have done so much to ensure that they can protect themselves. My point to Bibi has been historically, throughout my presidency, that I will do everything necessary to make sure Israel is in a position of strength, that it can defend itself by itself.”
But because of that strength, he added, “you are then in a position to take some risks for peace, not stupid risks, not reckless risks, but you can take some risks.”
Obama repeated his position that the settlement growth was making the idea of a two-state solution more remote, and that Israel could in a one-state situation be either Jewish or democratic, but not both.
Obama added during the interview that there was nothing he would disown in the Cairo speech he gave in 2009, and denied that his words at the time about the Middle East were naïve.
“I always described that speech as aspirational,” he said. “Peace always looks naïve until it comes about. If we had not expressed an aspiration for something different, then all of human progress would evaporate. We would be in the Stone Age, we would be in the era of Genghis Khan. We would rape and pillage and conquer, and any notions of universal rights – all those things sounded naïve, until they happened.”
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