WASHINGTON — In a clearly intended rebuke to former US president Barack Obama, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer told a packed crowd at the annual AIPAC policy conference that President Donald Trump’s administration has brought a level of closeness between the two allies that has eluded his predecessors.
“For the first time in many years, perhaps even many decades, there is no daylight between our two governments,” he said.
Dermer also told the confab’s opening session Sunday that there was a “meeting of the minds” between Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump during the prime minister’s meeting in Washington last month.
On peace in the Middle East, Dermer said there was now “a real prospect” for “reconciliation in the region.”
Dermer, who assumed his post in September 2013, had a famously acrimonious relationship with the Obama administration, most notably during the intense and highly public dispute between Netanyahu’s government and Washington over the Iran nuclear deal.
The term “daylight” was instantly evocative of the relationship between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration.
Obama White House officials, including the president himself, claimed several times that there was “no daylight” between the two administrations, particularly on dealing with Iran.
Some in Israel and the US accused Obama, however, of trying to put distance between the two governments, citing a statement he made to Jewish leaders in July 2009.
“Look at the past eight years,” Obama said, according to a Washington Post report on the meeting. “During those eight years, there was no space between us and Israel, and what did we get from that? When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states.”
Dermer’s predecessor Michael Oren also accused Obama of “putting daylight” between the countries in a 2015 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.
Dermer’s claim that Washington and Jerusalem are in sync is belied by recent reports of so-far-unsuccessful efforts to reach consensus on settlement building in the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump adviser Jason Greenblatt had two meetings over the issue earlier this month and discussions are still ongoing.
On Sunday Netanyahu denied an Israeli report that the two were close to reaching an agreement on curbing settlement building.
“In the past few days there have been reports in the media about alleged agreements in the talks we are holding with the White House regarding settlement construction,” Netanyahu told ministers. “There are many incorrect things in these reports; I will not go into details. Our talks with the White House are continuing and I hope they will end soon.”
While Trump promised repeatedly over the campaign to restore an uncritical relationship with Jerusalem, he hasn’t been as loath to contradict Israeli policy as some had expected.
During a joint press conference at the White House in February, coinciding with Netanyahu’s first visit to Washington since the new president took office, Trump publicly asked him to “hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
That statement came after he spoke to the Sheldon-Adelson owned Israel Hayom newspaper and spoke in surprisingly harsh terms of the settlement movement.
The settlements, he said, “don’t help the process. I can say that.”
“There is so much land left,” he added. “And every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left. But we are looking at that, and we are looking at some other options we’ll see. But no, I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace.”
Late last year, Dermer accused Obama officials of colluding with other UN member states to pass a Security Council measure that castigated Israel’s settlement enterprise as illegal and an obstacle to peace.