Oh, don’t you worry. All the requisite pleasantries will be exchanged. Obama will call his counterpart “Bibi”, and Netanyahu will call Obama “Mr. President.” Obama will of course renew the “unbreakable bond” between the two countries and Netanyahu will thank Obama for his “unflinching support” for Israel. And there will also be a handshake – firm and grim, it will last a few seconds, and the two men sitting in the Oval Office will look into each other’s eyes, shake their arms and attempt a smile for the cameras.
Don’t hold your breath though. There’s no love lost between those two, and there’s no need for body-language experts or political pundits to substantiate that claim. Over the past year, a great deal of bad blood has flowed between the Israeli government and Obama’s administration. I highly doubt that the 13th meeting between the two leaders will manage to make a difference, mainly because with only one more year to Obama’s presidency, they both simply couldn’t care less.
I mean, how else am I supposed to interpret Netanyahu’s decision, just a few days before he flies off to meet Obama, not to cancel the questionable appointment of a man who called the President a modern anti-Semite and compared Secretary of State John Kerry’s mental age to that of a 12-year-old as his chief media adviser and Israel’s “chief advocate”? As if the decision itself is not negligent and controversial enough (one would expect such a nomination to undergo some minimal background checking), Netanyahu is now insisting to meet the American president – their first meeting in over a year and their first meeting since the Iran deal – with the appointment still valid.
What message other than “I couldn’t care less” is Netanyahu sending? Mr. Prime Minister, if you refuse to mend a mistake, don’t be surprised if we reach the conclusion that you don’t really think it’s a mistake to start with.
Yet business is business and the strategic relations between the two countries supersede any personal grievances. Mutual interests will have the two men seated next to each other in the same room despite it all, and the two are definitely not interested in another stormy encounter.
Obama is fulfilling his end of the deal with the Democratic congressmen who signed off on his deal with Iran, and he is also helping the cause of the Democratic party as it faces the next election. After all, a smile and a handshake with an Israeli Prime Minister can go a long way with certain American voters. Of course, there is no one who wants to relay the message of “business as usual” more than Netanyahu. The relationship with the Obama administration has been a continuous thorn in Netanyahu’s side, fueling criticism abroad but mainly at home. Demonstrating the “unbreakable and unshakable” ties between Israel and America serves both sides perfectly.
The meeting tomorrow is also about money. Lots of it. Specifically, Netanyahu will be wanting to discuss Israel’s compensation package following the deal with Iran. He will be seeking a raise in the U.S. military assistance to Israel which today stands at $3.1 billion a year, and other military goodies that could help Israel defend itself against intensifying threats on and around its borders.
It’s still hard to determine whether Netanyahu is in for a disappointment or not. According to this NY Times editorial at least, there is little chance Israel’s shopping list will be granted due to cuts in federal spending. The campaign waged by Netanyahu against the Iran deal left some deep wounds that will take time (or a different President) to heal.
At the very least, the two sides will put on a good show for the press, and who knows – they might even manage to reach a tentative understanding about a basic compensation package.
Of one thing we can be sure. As the Israeli motorcade leaves the White House driveway on Monday, two words will dominate the thoughts of both men: “good riddance”.