Increased military aid to Israel and prospects for peace with the Palestinians were discussed at the friendly meeting between Netanyahu and Obama, which Netanyahu called “one of the best meetings I have had with Obama.”
At the first face-to-face meeting between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in over a year, military assistance to the Jewish state and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were at the top of the agenda
“The conversation took place in a pleasant atmosphere, I would say constructive and businesslike,” Netanyahu said following today’s meeting. “What was seen on the outside, was evident inside as well. [It was ] one of the best meetings I have had with Obama and I think the other side felt the same way.”
Meeting Monday at the White House, both leaders appeared decidedly more relaxed and friendly than at previous encounters. Speaking to the press before the start of a private session, Obama stressed that Israel’s security is a top priority, and Netanyahu reiterated his desire for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Obama stated ahead of Netanyahu’s visit that he has not given up on the pursuit of peace, even as the prospect of an elusive agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians appears further out of reach. The meeting was held amid a heightened wave of Palestinian terror, with several attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians taking place on a daily basis and Israeli accusations of incitement by the Palestinian leadership.
Ahead of Netanyahu’s arrival, US officials made it clear that the White House does not expect peace to be achieved before Obama leaves office in January 2017. Nevertheless, the president said he said he would seek Netanyahu’s thoughts on ways to lower tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and get the parties “back on a path towards peace.”
Obama Condemns Palestinian Violence
“I want to be very clear that we condemn in the strongest terms Palestinian violence against innocent Israeli citizens,” Obama declared.
“We have not given up our hope for peace,” Netanyahu said, adding that his concept of a two-state solution is based on a “demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.”
Earlier Monday, Israeli Cabinet Minister Silvan Shalom, Netanyahu’s designated negotiator with the Palestinians, said the prime minister would outline for Obama a number of confidence-building gestures toward the Palestinians.
Even with no chance of significant progress on Mideast peace, the fact that Obama and Netanyahu met is seen by many as an important step. Tensions between the long-time allies boiled over earlier this year as Obama and international partners finalized the Iranian nuclear accord, a high-stakes agreement Netanyahu labeled “a historic mistake” and furiously tried to stop, even delivering a speech to Congress to urge lawmakers to block its implementation.
Netanyahu views Iran’s nuclear program as an existential threat to Israel and argued that the international agreement leaves Tehran within reach of a bomb.
‘Common Ground’ Between US and Israel
“It’s no secret that the Prime Minister and I have had a strong disagreement on this narrow issue, but we don’t have a disagreement on the need to making sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon, and we don’t have a disagreement about the importance of us blunting destabilizing activities that Iran may be taking place,” Obama stated, adding that “we’re going to be looking to make sure that we find common ground there.”
Obama and Netanyahu planned to discuss progress on a new security agreement that could result in increased military assistance to Israel in wake of the Iran deal as well as the mounting Islamic terror in the region.
“The security of Israel is one of my top foreign policy priorities, and that has expressed itself not only in words, but in deeds. We have closer military and intelligence cooperation than any two administrations in history,” Obama said.
“We’ll have an opportunity to discuss how we can blunt the activities of ISIL [Islamic State], Hezbollah, other organizations in the region that carry out terrorist attacks,” he continued.
Mutual Assistance in Fighting Terror
“The military assistance that we provide, we consider 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, as we make sure that one of our closest allies can not only protect itself, but can also work with us in deterring terrorism and other security threats.”