The White House has apparently rejected a request by Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to meet President Barack Obama when he travels to the US later this month for the UN General Assembly meeting. An Israeli official told the Reuters news agency that Netanyahu's aides had asked for a meeting in Washington, but that the White House replied that the president's schedule will not permit it.
This is a pretty serious snub to the ultra Right wing Netanyahu and a sign that the Obama administration is nearing the end of its patience with him.
The Israel prime minister has gone out of his way to derail peace talks with the Palestinians and has humiliated Obama over and over again when it came to discussing conditions for negotiations. Writes Avi Shlaim, Professor at Oxford University:
Early on in his presidency, Obama identified a settlement freeze as the essential precondition for progress in the American-sponsored peace process. During his Cairo speech, on 4 June 2009, he made it clear that ‘The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements'. Obama had three confrontations with Netanyahu over the demand for a settlement freeze and he backed down each time.
Not only that, but Netanyahu has relentlessly pushed for a preemptive strike on Iran, threatening to go it alone if the US doesn't offer unquestioning support. He has diverted attention away from the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian land with his obsession with Iran putting the world on edge with his inflammatory rhetoric.
Obama has made it clear that the US will not support a preemptive strike on Iran, and the President no doubt remembers the previous humiliations and is slowly but surely exacting his revenge by ignoring Netanyahu's ranting and now refusing to meet with him. While the White House maintains the relationship between the US and Israel is as strong as ever, the reality is now something completely different.
Obama has played a clever game with Netanyahu. He knows that outright confrontation would spell disaster - Netanyahu has strong ties to the Jewish community in America, particularly AIPAC, the Israeli lobby, and Obama understands that without them he loses the election. He tried to progress peace talks, but obviously calculated that confrontations with the Israeli prime minister would have little to no effect and would end up hurting him with an already skeptical demographic (remember, Obama's middle name is 'Hussein' and is widely regarded as a Muslim in America). So Obama has opted for the soft approach. He has placated Netanyahu when he gets excitable, and simply ignored him when his behavior becomes reckless. Most importantly he has refused to confront him head on, which is exactly what Netanyahu wants. The Israeli prime minister thrives off confrontation - with everyone. He wants to bomb Iran into the stone age and continue to punish the Palestinians. Obama doesn't want to do this, and instead of slamming him for his incredibly stupidity, Obama simply says 'yes, we understand where you are coming from ', and then leaves it at that without committing one way or the other, much to the irritation of Netanyahu.
Israel will strike Iran if it wants to and it won't ask for the United State's permission, but there will be severe consequences if they do. It is not by any means in the United State's interest to attack them given it is still bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it will be furious if their strategic aims in the Middle East are interfered with by a rogue Netanyahu acting without its endorsement. Obama is sending a message to Netanyahu saying the following: "Attack Iran if you want, but we'll withdraw support in the blink of an eye". It's not an explicit statement, but then Obama operates in subtleties that a lot of pundits and politicians miss. We're seeing the beginning of a new relationship with Israel, and one being defined through incremental shifts in power that are favoring Obama and not Netanyahu.
And it's about time too.