According to Newsweek’s Daniel Klaidman, Eli Lake, and Dan Ephron, Benjamin Netanyahu has a hard time trusting Barack Obama. They report that a key moment in the breakdown in trust came in late May last year.
From the get-go, Obama had a frosty relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. “There’s no question that tension grew between the two, because we felt like … they had a different estimation [of the timeline for Iran to get nuclear-weapons capability],” says the Pentagon source, “and we felt like some of their [kinetic] activities undermined what we were trying to do. Obama’s view was, why would you remove the opportunity for a diplomatic solution for something that was so incrementally significant [as killing a scientist]?”
That trust deficit was exacerbated in May of last year when Obama delivered a landmark speech outlining his wider Middle East policy. Netanyahu was preparing to fly to Washington at the time and was surprised when he heard the president state that the 1967 borders should be a basis for negotiating the final frontiers of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu believed he had an understanding with Obama that some Jewish settlements built in areas occupied by Israel in the 1967 war would remain inside Israel, a position detailed in a 2004 letter from President Bush to then-prime minister Ariel Sharon. When Netanyahu finally arrived at the Oval Office, he was furious. At a photo op with the two leaders, Netanyahu began to lecture the president on Israel’s security needs before the gathered journalists.
That incident was treated as a small blip in U.S.-Israel relations at the time. Obama soon clarified his position at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington, stating that negotiated borders should be based on the 1967 lines “with mutually agreed swaps.” [My emphasis.] But resentment persisted. In June Israeli intelligence and military officers stopped discussing any details of their planning, analysis, and training cycles for a possible attack on Iran. Until then cooperation had been close: a regular video teleconference between U.S. and Israeli national-security advisers to discuss Iran was established during the first Netanyahu visit to Washington, in 2009. As one senior Israeli official puts it, “We … both wanted no surprises.”
But there’s a rather glaring problem with this account — a problem about which any journalist in Washington who had been half awake at the time would have been fully aware. Obama could hardly have later “clarified” his position by referring to “mutually agreed swaps.” Why? Because the very statement that had supposedly so enraged Netanyahu was this: “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” [My emphasis.] That’s what Obama said in his May 19 speech. But Netanyahu — and much of the Washington press corps that chooses to march in lockstep with Israel — chose to ignore Obama’s reference to mutually agreed territorial swaps.
Commenters, letter writers or someone must have brought this to the attention of Newsweek’s editors leading them to
bury “correct” the “mistake.” In the online version of the article, this sentence:
Obama soon clarified his position at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington, stating that negotiated borders should be based on the 1967 lines “with mutually agreed swaps.”
has been replaced with this:
Obama soon clarified his position at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington, emphasizing that a negotiated border between Israel and a new Palestinian state would by definition be “different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.”
This is what one might call a cover-your-ass correction. The article’s misrepresentation of the facts is no longer quite as glaring, yet the core accusation — that Obama had undermined Netanyahu’s confidence — remains. It remains, because the whole thrust of the article is about the degree to which Netanyahu has a hard time trusting Obama and that would be a hard argument to sustain if one of its key elements was bogus.
Netanyahu’s tantrum was not the result of a trust deficit. It was a piece of political theater from a man who knows how to push around American presidents. In 2001 he declared: “I know what America is. America is something that can easily be moved.”
Newsweek, instead of honestly portraying the duplicity of the Israeli prime minister, would rather have its readers believe that Netanyahu is burdened by the angst of wondering whether he can trust the White House.