PM to get warm welcome from Obama

Next week's meeting promises to be long on form and short on content.

May 26, 2010 08:01
4 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu meets with US Pr

netanyahu obama 311. (photo credit: AP)


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Next week’s meeting in Washington between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama will be “hugs and kisses,” long on form and short on content, Israeli officials said on Wednesday, shortly after White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel extended an invitation to Netanyahu.

Next Tuesday’s get-together is widely perceived in Jerusalem as an effort to change the public tenor of the Obama administration’s relationship with Israel.

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Emanuel, in the country to celebrate the bar mitzvas of his son and nephew, delivered the invitation during a meeting with the prime minister in his office in Jerusalem.

Obama “has asked me to extend an invitation to you to come visit him at the White House for a work meeting to discuss both our shared security interests as well as our close cooperation in seeking peace between Israel and its neighbors,” Emanuel told Netanyahu.

He made sure to mention his warm feelings for the country and its people during a visit, which he described as “heartfelt.”

“On a personal matter, on behalf of the Emanuel family, I want to say that this trip has been wonderful... most importantly for me to show my children, given so much, as you know, of my childhood was here, to show them the country [and] expose them to the history in a very intimate way,” he said.

He added that Israelis had been “exceptionally warm and genuine in their affection to both all the family in general, but particularly to Zach [his son] on his bar mitzva in wishing him a mazal tov.”

The two men even joked about Zach’s dislike for his homework.

The White House visit will come less than two months after Netanyahu’s last visit to the Oval Office, when he reportedly was given a series of demands by the US to stop Jewish construction in east Jerusalem and open proximity talks with the Palestinian Authority.

During that meeting, no photographers were allowed, and there were no statements issued afterward, leading Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl to quip that Obama treated Netanyahu as an unsavory, third-world dictator. That visit marked the nadir in US-Israel relations during the Obama administration.

A few weeks later, after the administration began hearing criticism from leading Jewish voices in Congress and in the Democratic Party, the Obama administration launched what has been termed a “charm offensive” that included a meeting of Obama with Jewish congressmen; two meetings of top Jewish White House staffers – Emanuel, Dennis Ross and Dan Shapiro – with 15 rabbis; and a number of speeches to US Jewish organizations and pro-Israel institutions by top administration officials, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Adviser James Jones.

The recent invitation to the White House is viewed as the peak in this new campaign so far, with the expectation being that this time the White House’s reception of Netanyahu will be considerably warmer.

One Israeli official said it was almost certain that unlike the last meeting between the two leaders, and even the preceding one in November, this time there will be a joint appearance before the press. According to this official, the meeting next week will focus more on atmospherics than on substance, with the message being the very warm manner in which the prime minister is received.

The official said that nothing dramatic has taken place since US envoy George Mitchell started the proximity talks three weeks ago, and that the meeting had more to do with US domestic politics than with anything that has happened on the Israeli-Palestinian track.

The two leaders are widely expected to discuss the diplomatic process, as well as Iran, with Netanyahu likely to thank Obama for pursuing sanctions at the UN and rejecting the Turkish-Brazilian bid to get Iran to transfer abroad 1,200 kilos of low-enriched uranium.

Obama is expected to meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas later in the month.

Netanyahu is scheduled to leave on Thursday for Paris for a meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, where Israel will be formally accepted into the organization. He is to be accompanied by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet in Paris separately with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who will also be at the OECD meeting, as well as with other European leaders.

From Paris, Netanyahu will travel to Toronto, and will spend Shabbat there. He will be joined there by Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, chairman of the Israel-Canada Parliamentary Friendship League.

On Sunday, the prime minister will take part in the annual Walk With Israel parade in Toronto, and then go to Ottawa for meetings the next day with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

This will be the first visit by a prime minister to Canada in 16 years, with Israeli officials saying it is meant to thank Harper for his staunch support.

Netanyahu was originally scheduled to fly back to Israel on Monday evening, but instead will now fly to Washington for his meeting with Obama.

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