Benjamin Netanyahu’s sudden decision to cancel his trip to Washington later this month to see President Barack Obama and to address the AIPAC policy conference came as a surprise to the White House, which was miffed that it learned of the rejection from the media, not from the prime minister.
The prime minister’s office told reporters the White House was unable to find time for the meeting before the president left for Cuba. That’s “false,” said National Security Council spokesman Ned Price. A meeting had been set for March 18 and the White House felt it had been blindsided by Netanyahu.
Aides denied that Netanyahu intentionally snubbed Obama. They said he canceled because he didn’t want to meet with the presidential contenders since that might be seen as an endorsement.
That’s an odd reason for a compulsive meddler in American partisan politics.
A more plausible explanation is that negotiations for a 10-year security aid package have hit some snags and the agreement is not ready for signing.
Netanyahu had been hoping to close the deal on this trip, but the two sides are still far apart on funding levels and other details. Obama was willing to raise the aid from current $3.1 billion annually but not up to the $5b. Netanyahu wants.
The mention of avoiding presidential politics suggests that unlike four years ago, Netanyahu intends to be a bit more subtle this time. In 2012, Ron Dermer, his confidante and longtime GOP operative who is now ambassador in Washington, organized a fundraiser in Jerusalem for the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney; Netanyahu then offered Romney what was widely seen as a virtual endorsement.
Another complication for Netanyahu was Monday’s announcement by former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg that he will not running for president because he fears a three-way race could lead to election of the “divisive and demagogic” Donald Trump, who he is convinced would imperil the security and stability of the United States, The New York Times reported.
Netanyahu would probably prefer Bloomberg to all those running because of his longtime unequivocal support for Israel. He is remembered warmly for his reaction to the FAA decision to ban US flights to Ben-Gurion Airport because of a nearby Hamas rocket attack. The mayor quickly boarded an El Al flight from JFK airport to express his “solidarity with the Israeli people.”
If Netanyahu were to endorse a candidate this year, whom might he prefer? Hillary Clinton – More hawkish than Obama but a strong supporter of the two-state solution, unlike the Republican contenders. She has deeper and broader ties to the Jewish community than any rivals. If she succeeds in bringing in a Democratic Senate on her coattails that will make Chuck Schumer, her former Senate colleague, the majority leader and her most important ally on Capitol Hill. Schumer has called himself Netanyahu’s best friend in Washington, siding with him against Obama on the Iran nuclear deal.
A strong majority of Jewish voters will be happier with Hillary because she will be in synch on issues important to their domestic agenda. She is clearly is the best informed and most experienced of the lot on foreign policy. Don’t expect her to start off with any big peace push as Obama did but rather to move into it gradually and avoid springing surprises.
She knows present Israeli and Palestinian leadership are not interested in reviving peace negotiations.
Ted Cruz – With an ardently religious focus and a base among Evangelicals, he will declare his love of Zion and opposition to Palestinian statehood, especially if he gets millions from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who is to the Right of Netanyahu.
He’s shown little interest in foreign policy beyond swaggering statements about a beefed up military and carpet-bombing terrorists. Reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks isn’t even on his agenda. He speaks about defending Israel but he also defends a prominent preacher/supporter who said Hitler was sent to hunt Jews.
His “anointed by God” campaign, which includes putting the Bible ahead of the Constitution, and his domestic policies are likely to give him the smallest Jewish vote count since the 11 percent George H.W.
Bush got in 1992.
Donald Trump – Speaks with forked tongue. On the one hand he declares undying love and support for Israel and on the other vows to be neutral and on the other he was reluctant to renounce support from the KKK, David Duke and Louis Farrakhan and even attempted to compare white extremist groups to the “Federation of Jewish Philanthropies.”
He fails to understand that he can be an honest broker in peace talks and still be pro-Israel, as have previous presidents. The Arabs want a mediator who has clout in Israel and can give Israeli leaders the support and confidence essential to taking risks for peace.
His inconsistency, temper tantrums, rage, racism and bullying make him an unreliable ally for Israel at best and potentially dangerous. His bigotry even embarrassed Netanyahu, who reportedly declined a meeting with Trump last fall after the billionaire called for temporarily banning all Muslims from the United States.
Netanyahu realizes Trump is volatile and could turn on him without warning notwithstanding his expressions for love for Israel and his Jewish grandchildren.
Marco Rubio – Amb. Ron Dermer comes out of the same Miami political milieu as Marco Rubio and presumably already has a strong relationship with the one-term senator. Rubio announced his foreign policy advisers and they include many Jews and neocons associated with the Iraq war, the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations and Netanyahu’s Likud. Like Cruz, he will have no interest in pushing the peace process and will most likely be a loyal Likudnik.
If he wins next week’s Florida primary he could get an injection of Adelson money. His oft-repeated talking points appear designed to please the billionaire.
“When I’m president, we’re going to take sides.
We are going to be on Israel’s side.” The Palestinians “teach little kids... that it’s a glorious thing to kill Jews.” The UN is the “new face of anti-Semitism in the world.” “The Palestinians don’t want a deal ...they want to destroy Israel.”
Bernie Sanders – He has spoken movingly about his Jewish heritage and even lived in Israel, spending time on a kibbutz in his twenties. But foreign policy is low on his agenda. He would be a strong supporter of a two-state solution but has given few hints about what he would do in the Middle East as president. “I am very proud of being Jewish, and that is an essential part of who I am as a human being,” he declared at Sunday night’s debate in Michigan.
Whoever is the next president, the security-defense- intelligence relationship is most likely to continue or get even better. What is most likely to be affected is the diplomatic and political relationship and efforts to revive a moribund peace process. One party clearly is not interested.[email protected]