'US, Israel, share ties, not a romance'

US, Israel, share ties,

Netanyahu Obama 248.88 cannot change! (photo credit: Pete Souza / White House)
Netanyahu Obama 248.88 cannot change!
(photo credit: Pete Souza / White House)
The White House on Friday released a single photograph from a hushed meeting held Monday night between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The meeting was closed to the media and apart from a brief and laconic White House press statement, neither of the sides made any comments to reporters following the discussion. Netanyahu met with Obama tête-à-tête for approximately an hour, after which the two leaders were joined by their aides for an additional 40 minutes. A day after the meeting, the privacy of which led the media in Israel to interpret it as potentially humiliating for Netanyahu for lack of the traditional hand-shaking photo-op, a senior US administration official told The Jerusalem Post that the meeting was "very positive." The official rejected reports of a contentious encounter as "silly media speculation." Several other sources familiar with the meeting's dynamics described it as positive and cordial, rather than angry and confrontational, and the photo released Friday where Obama and Netanyahu are seen smiling over dinner at the dining room in the White House's Oval Office seems to refute any reports of an undesired or forced meeting. Channel 10's Washington reporter said Friday evening the release of the photo aims to correct the impression caused in Israel by the circumstances surrounding the meeting, adding that White House officials were talking to Israeli reporters since Tuesday in an effort to stress that the meeting was indeed in good spirits. Commenting on the two leaders' private discussion, US-Israel relations expert Ra'anan Gissin told IBA News on Friday afternoon that "Washington is different today, closing one year [into Obama's administration] with a lot of statements but nothing really done." Gissin said the current US administration "is an administration putting a lot of emphasis on public diplomacy," typifying the Monday meeting between Netanyahu and Obama as an instance of "private diplomacy." Regarding the "humiliation" reported in the Israeli press, Gissin said he was "not sure who was humiliated" - the press, because they didn't get to cover the meeting, or Netanyahu, because he was denied a handshaking photo op with the US president. Gissin said that the Netanyahu government must still "come to terms" with the "different perception" of the Obama administration, and pointed to a seeming "paradox" in the White House's displeasure with Netanyahu's outlook on West Bank settlements, as publicly expressed by Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other officials, and a consensus between the two democracies on the issue of Iran, and the latter, he said, is "done discreetly." Gissin said "There's no doubt that when it comes to the real threat, the place to deal with that is in discreet, private diplomacy, in closed doors." He emphasized that reports of tension in US-Israeli relations are not unique to the Netanyahu-Obama terms. "I want to make it very clear, and we can look back in history for five decades: There have been close relations between Israeli prime ministers and American presidents, and all these relations, whether it was [former prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin, [former PM Ariel] Sharon, [former PM Ehud] Olmert, always had ups and downs and had tension in them, because we're not talking about a love affair, we're talking about relations between countries, which see eye to eye in the basic interests, which have shared values and a shared destiny after 9/11, but differences on how the policies should be implemented." Hilary Leila Krieger contributed to this report