by Lynn Sweet
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday morning in the context of a new reality: that a two-state solution will not be negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinians on his watch.
Besides the Obama meeting, Netanyahu has three other events on his Monday and Tuesday Washington schedule, calibrated to reach out to various constituencies.
The most important meeting was with Obama on Monday morning at the White House, coming as they try again for a reset on the tense relationship. Netanyahu added more strains when he delivered a speech to Congress last March urging members—unsuccessfully—to reject Obama’s Iran nuclear deal. This was their 16th session together since Obama has been in office, according to the White House.
On Monday evening, Netanyahu headed to friendly turf at the American Enterprise Institute to receive the conservative group’s Irving Kristol Award and take part in a “conversation” with Danielle Pletka, Senior Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at AEI.
Netanyahu was expected to be asked about, according to the AEI, “his insight into the Middle East; his take on US-Israel relations; and the growing challenges facing Israel, including regional turmoil, the rise of religious extremism, the impact of the Syrian killing fields, and the ensuing mass migration.”
On Tuesday, Netanyahu speaks to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly. Jerry Silverman, the President and Chief Executive Officer, told Moment he anticipates the prime minister’s address to focus on the way forward. Since this comes after the meeting with Obama, Jewish Federation participants will also potentially hear firsthand if there was “a very productive meeting at the White House and a positive outcome,” Silverman said. In the last two weeks, Silverman has been with Netanyahu on three occasions in Israel with various groups.
Netanyahu ventures into less familiar territory also on Tuesday when he goes to the liberal Center for American Progress for a “moderated conversation” with CAP President Neera Tanden. Tanden has strong ties to the Obama White House and Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. CAP was founded by John Podesta, who is Clinton’s campaign chairman. “They will discuss a range of issues, including Iran, Israeli-Palestinian relations, and regional concerns, as well as ways to strengthen the partnership between Israel and the United States,” according to CAP.
The White House laid out the administration preview of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting in a Thursday briefing with reporters and with Rob Malley, National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf Region; Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, and Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel. “Even as there have been occasional differences on particular issues, we are proud that we’ve been able to sustain an unprecedented level of security cooperation and we’re always looking for ways to continue to enhance our cooperation in support of Israel’s security and our shared view of challenges in Israel’s very dangerous neighborhood,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes said the agenda will focus on security cooperation going forward, implementing the Iran nuclear deal and “our shared concerns about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region,” Israeli-Palestinian relations and Syria. “I think both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama are clearly focused in the meeting that we’re preparing for next week on looking forward. And in so doing, there’s a focus on a lot of areas of common interest and convergence,” Shapiro said.
Not on the table: a discussion about Netanyahu’s nominee for public diplomacy chief, Ran Baratz, who suggested Obama was anti-Semitic and that Secretary of State John Kerry has the intellect of a pre-teen.
Rhodes said, “President Obama will have a very substantive agenda to pursue with the prime minister and, frankly, can’t have time to worry about what every person who’s appointed in different governments might or might not have said about him.”
With less than 14 months left in office, Obama’s ability to influence Middle East events is now limited, the officials said. At the same time, a goal is to keep discussions to reassess paths to keeping the two-state solution alive. Said Malley, “This is really the first time since the first term of the Clinton administration where we have an administration that faces a reality where the prospect of a negotiated two-state solution is not in the cards… in the time that’s remaining. That was not the case until now.
“And that does, in and of itself, imply a major reassessment of what we can do, but also what the parties are going to do. And I think the onus is also on them to assess what they’re going to do, given this landscape where for various reasons that prospect of a negotiated comprehensive settlement is not right now in the cards.”
The visit to CAP is seen as an effort to repair relations with Democrats. Asked about this, Rhodes took note of both engagements—at the GOP-allied AEI and the Democratic-allied CAP.
“One point that we made over the course of the last year is that it’s incredibly important to recognize that part of the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship over the years has been that it’s completely bipartisan here in the United States. Republicans and Democrats have been united in their support for Israel and its security.
“So we do think it’s certainly a positive and constructive step for the prime minister to be speaking to Republicans and Democrats, to be speaking at AEI but also at the Center for American Progress,” Rhodes said.