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Netanyahu attacks Obama again, claims White House rejected meeting request

Despite criticism at home and even from Defense Minister Barak, Netanyahu doubles down against the American president, on the eve of a close election.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and U.S. President Obama (White House/US Gov’t Work)

The public rift between the American administration and Israel is deepening: earlier today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched an unprecedented attack against the administration, stating that “the world has no right to stop us” (from attacking Iran). It was clear that the quote was directed at President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, as Netanyahu was referring to the American refusal to declare a “red line” that would lead to an American strike on Iran if crossed. Later – as a result? – it was reported that the White House refused Netanyahu’s request for a meeting with the president.

The Israeli prime minister’s comments on Tuesday weren’t accidental – they were made in English and later sent to the press over email:

So far we can say with certainty that diplomacy and sanctions haven’t worked…Iran knows that there is no red line, if Iran knows that there’s no deadline, what will it do? Exactly what it’s doing: It’s continuing without any interference towards obtaining nuclear weapons capability and from there nuclear bombs. The world tells Israel: Wait. There’s still time. And I say: Wait for what? Wait until when? Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.

This evening, it was reported that the White House has refused a request by Netanyahu for a meeting with the president. The prime minister plans to travel to speak before the United Nation’s General Assembly later this month. This would be the first time the president has refused an Israeli request for such a meeting, and it comes only two months before an election in which the Jewish vote is expected to play a major role (at least in Florida).

See 2ed Update at the bottom of this post, following a phone call from the president to Netanyahu last night.

This is big news. My guess is that the administration is extremely frustrated with what seems like Netanyahu’s blunt support for and even coordination with Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Also, after the schooling Netanyahu gave the president in the Oval Office in a previous meeting, it seems that avoiding a meeting altogether would actually be safer for the president. At the same time, I hope that the administration is not threatening with an empty gun (again). If Netanyahu ends up going to the White House, he will score points in public opinion here and help the GOP. Following a visit last year to Washington, Netanyahu surged in the polls in Israel, and now we are getting closer to the election. Israeli sources have already told Maariv that they believe the prime minister will ultimately get the White House meeting he has requested.

UPDATE: The White House has denied the existence of a rift between the leaders, and claims that the absence of a meeting is because the two men won’t be in NYC at the same time. Netanyahu, it was added, will meet Secretary Hillary Clinton during his visi‬t. 

There is also the expected political fallout in Israel: earlier today, opposition leader Shaul Mofaz criticized Netanyahu for “shoving his hands too deep in the American polling booths… Netanyahu should win against Ahmadinejad, not Obama,” said Mofaz.

As I wrote here a few days ago, Netanyahu’s coalition partner, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who enjoys good ties with the current administration, is also splitting from the prime minister on this issue. Today, Barak warned that “differences with the United States should be discussed behind closed doors” – another message intended to create a distinction between the two Israeli leaders in the minds of centrist voters in Israel, and perhaps also in the eyes of Americans.

I don’t remember any time in history when Israeli politicians were so deeply involved in internal American politics.

UPDATE II: During the night, President Obama called Prime Minister Netanyahu and the two held an hour-long talk. According to the Israel media, the president gave new assurances on the American commitment to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.

So what just happened? How come the president refuses to meet Netanyahu, but then calls him? Looking back, it could have all been a spin coming from Jerusalem. The White House might have rejected the request for a meeting on genuinely technical grounds (with the personal suspicions between the two sides playing some role). Then, the prime minister office leaked this to the local press in Israel, suggesting that the Americans have thrown Israel under the bus, again.

Note this tweet from Yahoo’s Laura Rozen:

US informed several capitals no Obama bilats w/ foreign leaders in NY. Netanyahu gov’t only 1 that leaked turned down, US official tells me

The phone call was probably an effort by the president to contain the danger to the campaign from the way the story was presented in Israel. Further proof to this theory can be found in the morning papers in Israel, which went to print before the phone call was made. Sheldon Adelson’s Israel Hayom, which usually echoes the prime minister’s line, makes it clear that the United States snubbed the Israeli prime minister. A “high level source” at the prime minister office is quoted as saying that:

There won’t be a meeting despite the fact that we made it clear to the White House we want one, and […] Netanyahu was to travel to Washington to meet the president. We got a message that the president’s schedule doesn’t allow a meeting.

So either someone read the American response wrong in Jerusalem, or the Israeli prime minister set another trap before the administration. You pick your theory.

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    1. David

      As an American Jew it is my fervent desire that he remain as far away from the states as possible. He is an embarrassment to all who support a two state solution but worse, he is a danger to all who possess an interest in peace. His meddling in American elections, in support of a right winger with a tea party base is unconscionable. Bibi would love to forge alliances with right wingers around the world. In significant measure Israel’s pariah status is due to him.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Jack

      Impressive if White House have refused to meet him, enough is enough. But it could be rumours. Anyway he has totally lost it, now going against the hand that feeds him. Megalomaniac?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Danny

      Netanyahu is trying with all his might to help his good buddy Romney (recent polls show him trailing Obama by 6%). I guess Netanyahu figures that as far as Obama is concerned, he (netanyahu) is damned if he does and he’s damned if he doesn’t, so let’s try to help Mitt out. I too do not recall a more irresponsible man at the head of the country than this loser.

      Reply to Comment
    4. weindeb

      I was downright thrilled to learn, if it is indeed true, that the White House has refused Netanyahu’s request to meet with President Obama. As to that statement, “Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”, one can only hope that it exposes this arrogant warmonger for what he is. And to think it issued from the mouth of a leader of a country in continued and deliberate contravention of international law, of a country itself a nuclear power outside the NPT. “Chutzbah” is simply too cute a word for this rabid Israeli neocon. “Appalling”, “disgusting”, “maniacal” come closer to the issue.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Mitchell Cohen

      I hate to disappoint EVERYBODY (from those on the left who are drooling at the possibility that Obama has refused to meet Bibi to those on the right who are poucing at this so-called news item to drag Obama through the coals for refusing to meet Netanyahu). It is a mere scheduling issue, which even Fox News acknowledges….

      Reply to Comment
      • Mitchell, I agree that this is how it seems from the White House’s side. The question is why the PMO went to the Israeli press last night, claiming that the president snubbed Netanyahu?

        Reply to Comment
      • weindeb

        Mr. Cohen, although I’m glad that you “…hate to disappoint EVERYBODY” by being privy to the truth and nobly sharing it, I quite frankly 1) wonder whether a mere scheduling difficulty truly accounts for Bibi’s non-visit and 2) think that maybe what’s really important here is a perception that of course might be too good to be true.

        Reply to Comment
      • Jack


        You believe thats true though? What do you expect them to say? “Yes Obama doesnt like Netanyahu so he wont meet him”? Seriously when PM comes to US they pick a date and place to see each other.
        And even if true, it shows that Netanyahu isnt worth hooking up with for the White House.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Lauren

      I don’t believe the Zionist US Pres is sincere. This is just to placate the anxious public. Let Israel send their people to die and leave the peace loving people out of this. Any Americans who.believe the lies about Iran, can join the suicide mission

      I’m still waiting for Bush’s kids to share the “sacrifice”.

      Reply to Comment
    7. According to JTA:

      The White House statement … denied reports that Netanyahu requested a Washington meeting later this month.

      “Contrary to reports in the press, there was never a request for Prime Minister Netanyahu to meet with President Obama in Washington, nor was a request for a meeting ever denied,” it said.

      see: http://www.jta.org/news/article/2012/09/11/3106736/obama-netanyahu-discuss-iran

      So someone is straight out lying. Who – the WH or BB?

      Reply to Comment
    8. ToivoS

      Of course the Obama administration snubbed Netanyahu. Didn’t we read 2 or 3 days ago that N wanted to meet with Obama on his next visit. This was a public statement. It was an act of arrogance and disrespect on Netanyahu’s account. Third rate powers do not publicly announce these kinds of meetings with the world’s most powerful country, rather they send an emissary, with hat in hand, who approaches the Washington protocol officer and plead for a meeting. If granted, they can then announce it. They do not announce it before being given permission.

      Obama had to slap down Netanyahu for this insolence, any thing less would be a sign of weakness on Obama’s part.

      Obama was perfectly correct to say that Israel had not requested a meeting for the simple reason the Israelis violated the protocol for requesting such a meeting. Hopefully, those fools in the PM’s office will let this drop if they do not want a more explicit slap down.

      It is actually fun watching Obama teach Netanyahu some manners and see the student whine away in the corner after each lesson.

      Reply to Comment
    9. eporue

      are you israelis going to re-elect this clown? you know, that then all is lost… not only, that he is killing you, but your choice to choose him again will kill you… because you will be seen as all what this mad guy represents…

      Reply to Comment
    10. Piotr Berman

      Re-electing Netanyahu? Israel is a small country, and the talent pool of politicians is a bit shallow. First I conjecture that it is a bit hard to find a better candidate than Netanyahu in the current coalition. Reuven Rivlin perhaps, but does he have a chance to win Likud primaries? Folks that have a chance do not seem any better. Prime minister Lieberman? Yishai?

      It is also possible that a combination of missteps and economy will bring Yachimovich, Mofaz or Lapid to PM. But is it indeed possible?

      Reply to Comment