Israeli minister Tzachi Hanegbi slammed US President Barack Obama’s efforts to foster Israeli-Palestinian peace Thursday, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a cordial meeting with the American leader and trumpeted warming relations between the two.
Speaking a day after what was likely the last meeting between Netanyahu and Obama in their current positions, Hanegbi, a close confidante of the prime minister, told Army Radio that the US president was “naive and messianic” in his dealings with Israel.
“At the moment Obama is not acting like the most powerful man in the world,” he said, “instead he is behaving like someone working in Hillary Clinton’s campaign office.”
In their public remarks on Tuesday, Obama and Netanyahu displayed a jovial camaraderie with the US president only briefly mentioning peace efforts with the Palestinians and concerns over settlement building.
But behind closed doors, senior Obama administration officials claimed Obama was more pointed, raising “profound US concerns” that settlement-building was eroding prospects for peace.
Netanyahu challenged that notion, said one official, adding that the two leaders had not “papered over” their differences.
However, a senior Israeli official said the issue was only point of contention between the two leaders, as they sought to put a history of testy ties behind them.
Hanegbi’s comments highlighted lingering discomfort in Israel’s government with Obama’s efforts to push for a two-state deal with the Palestinians, despite attempts by Netanyahu to smooth out ruffles between Washington and Jerusalem.
In 2014, then defense minister Moshe Ya’alon called US Secretary of State John Kerry “obsessive and messianic,” drawing loud protests from the US administration. Ya’alon later apologized, after Netanyahu expressed unhappiness with the comments.
Hanegbi was not alone to show cracks in the relationship Thursday, US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro saying that Obama was “disappointed” in the lack of progress towards a two-state solution under the Israeli leader.
While Obama still believes there is a possibility for positive developments in the three months left before he leaves office, he has accepted that he will not achieve the significant progress he had originally hoped for, Shapiro told Army Radio in an interview from the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“Obama aspired to help Israel achieve its goal of two states for two peoples. There is disappointment over what was not achieved but at the same time there is still a will and an obligation to move forward, however possible, in the right direction,” Shapiro said.
“In the last eight years they haven’t held back from discussing the things they disagree on and that’s a sign of good relationship, that they are not afraid to speak about the important things,” he added.
Addressing the General Assembly on Tuesday, Obama said that while the Palestinians should reject terror and incitement, Israel must recognize that it cannot “permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.”
“Surely Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if Palestinians reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel. But Israel must recognize that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land. We all have to do better,” Obama said.
“There are things that Israel can do to improve the situation,” Shapiro said Thursday, echoing Obama’s words.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.