Obama, Netanyahu seek common ground

2015-11-09 21:19
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama. (AP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama. (AP)

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Washington - US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were seeking to find "common ground" on Monday in their first White House meeting since the signing of an international accord on Iran's nuclear programme prompted a public feud between the leaders.

"It's no secret that the prime minister and I have had a strong disagreement on this narrow issue," Obama said. "But we don't have a disagreement on the need to making sure Iran does not get a nuclear weapon, and we don't have a disagreement about us blunting destabilising activities in Iran that may be taking place."

Netanyahu pointed to Iran's destabilising actions in the region, but did not directly mention the nuclear agreement in remarks to reporters ahead of the meeting.

He stressed the need for the US to continue military assistance to Israel so it can defend itself "against any threat" and a US-Israeli agreement on military assitance was at the top of the agenda.

The countries are looking to renew for 10 years an agreement that outlines the aid. The current deal expires in 2017 and provides $3bn a year to the Israeli military.

Obama declared US support for the Israeli military "not only an important part of our obligation to the security of the state of Israel, but also an important part of US security infrastructure in the region".

Soured relations 

Ahead of the talks, the White House had sought to downplay the soured relations.

"Even as they can have a difference on an issue as consequential as the Iranian nuclear deal, they can direct their governments to co-operate at an unprecedented level," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said ahead of the meeting.

The meeting was also overshadowed by a fresh wave of violence in Israel and the Palestinian areas that erupted in early October, 17 months after a final attempt at US-sponsored peace talks collapsed.

Washington is expected to seek a recommitment from Netanyahu to the two-state solution, after the premier made conflicting remarks on Palestinian statehood prior to and after his re-election in March. White House officials said ahead of the talks that the administration however no longer believes a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible before the end of Obama's term in office in January 2017.

Netanyahu, however, told Obama that he has not given up on peace with Palestinians despite the surge of violence in recent weeks.

"We have not given up our hopes of peace," Netanyahu said, stressing that Israel remains committed to a two-state solution, but also remains determined to protect itself against threats.

Obama said the leaders would discuss "how we can lower the temperature between the Israelis and Palestinians".

'Gestures'

A close associate said on Monday that Netanyahu planned to present a package of "gestures" to the Palestinians in the areas of employment, communication, water and construction.

Seeking to reassure right-wingers in Israel who oppose any such overtures amid ongoing Palestinian attacks, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom insisted Israel's security would not be affected.

But a major coalition partner, Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, immediately expressed opposition.

"If the Palestinians see that terrorism pays off, the terrorism will increase," Bennett told Israel Radio.

On Syria, talks will include the impact of Russian involvement in the conflict, the US campaign against Islamic State and the need to keep Syria from being used to launch attacks against Israel.

Then there is the awkward issue of the appointment by Netanyahu of a new chief spokesperson, who has belittled Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry in posts on Facebook. 

Media advisor Ran Baratz is an outspoken right-winger, who over the past year, prior to his nomination, called Obama's response to Netanyahu's Congress speech an example of "modern anti-Semitism" and dismissed Kerry as laughable. 

Last week, he was forced to issue an apology. Netanyahu too issued a statement distancing himself from Baratz' posts, calling them "totally unacceptable".


Read more on:    us  |  palestine  |  israel  |  middle east peace

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