Waiting and waiting for Bibi

Reporter's Notebook: When the Netanyahu-Clinton meeting drags on for hours, inside information on sandwiches is big news.

November 14, 2010 02:15
4 minute read.
Netanyahu, Clinton meet in New York

Clinton Netanyahu happy . (photo credit: GPO)

NEW YORK – “Don’t sit there,” one of the women working with the Prime Minister’s Office told me hastily as I reached for a chair leaning against the table. “That’s for the prime minister and his staff.”

I walked away and found another chair. This one right by an outlet and, as it turned out, the air conditioning vent.

Thursday was a beautiful fall day in New York, but with more than a minyan of Israeli reporters in what under ordinary circumstances would be an ordinary hotel room, the space was being preemptively cooled. The temperature in my particular seat was 10 degrees cooler.

But it wouldn’t matter for too much longer, I thought. Any moment now, as soon as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were done with their one-on-one talks, Netanyahu would come in the room with his aides and do a briefing, at various levels of off- and on-the record, depending on what would be said.

“Maybe they should send Hillary in here instead,” someone remarked. “As a cultural exchange kind of thing?” An hour went by, and then two.

With the passage of time went our collective resistance to the peanutbutter chip and chocolate chip cookies placed in the room, inexplicably sprinkled with loose M&Ms. Coffee was poured, ice water drunk. Every now and then, the door would open – only for someone to say, “There’s no word yet.”

“Maybe Bibi and Hillary are having makeup sex, and that’s what’s taking so long?” someone quipped, to ample male snickers.(This is the kind of thing that often happens in rooms where there’s only one female journalist.)

 Members of the prime ministers’ staff came in, and reporters put down their cookies and picked up their pens. But the only thing to report, for our purposes, was that there was nothing to report – yet.

Clinton and Netanyahu had met one-on-one for over two hours, they told us (eliciting suggestively raised eyebrows from the more juvenile members of the group), and now, they were meeting in teams. How long would it continue? No one knew – two hours, at least, one member of the staff said.

Reporters groaned.

“So it’s going long,” I said to one of staffers. “Well, that sounds good.”

“It’s not good for me or my deadline,” an annoyed reporter snapped, typing furiously into his iPhone.

“You think so?” the staffer asked, with a raised eyebrow.

“I’ve been divorced,” I told the spokesman. “I know from personal experience that there is no such thing as a bad long meeting.”

He laughed. “Exactly – if it’s not going well, you just get up and leave. Oh, you know too much!” We exchanged business cards, and he left.

A while later – who was paying attention to the passage of time anymore? – the door opened.

“I have a bit of intel for you,” an American security guy said, leaning into the room. “They just ordered sandwiches.”

“I’m out of here,” one of the reporters said, standing up and leaving.

The sandwich information was big. After all, if they anticipated the meeting ending within an hour or even two, only cookies and coffee would be necessary.

No, this one was going to be a long day’s journey into night.

“The worst is when THEY get sandwiches, but YOU don’t,” someone quipped. A consensus was reached: time to go get our own sandwiches.

E-mailing back and forth with the office, I took longer than most to shut down, and by the time I did, the room was nearly empty.

People exchanged phone numbers – “I’ll call you if I hear something” – as they parted ways.

I walked down the street a few blocks, wondering what would happen in the talks, wondering what was even possible, during a week when inflammatory remarks had been traded back and forth in a verbal volley. Watching my feet, I suddenly noticed I was walking in snow.

Had I been in the meeting room so long that months had passed, and it was now winter? No, I realized, though it sure felt that way.

Instead, just two blocks down from the hotel, someone was filming a movie on the street that took place during winter. An entire city block, from the median in the middle of Park Avenue to the sidewalk, had been covered with man-made snow. Children were breaking away from their nannies to grab unseasonable snowballs, ruining their seasonally appropriate footwear in the process.

In my head, I ran through the various ways to weave this into my story – maybe saying something about things being incongruously cold between the parties, or perhaps the more accurate Ecclesiastes allusion, “to everything there is a season”? But the fact of the matter was, all of this was too strange. In a world where people can make snow from nothing on a beautiful fall day, maybe, just maybe, they could make the beginnings of peace?

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