Netanyahu: Obama and I are like ‘an old couple’

After a harsh tongue-lashing from the US, Netanyahu says he and the president ‘agree on a lot more things than we disagree on’

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with US president Barack Obama, at the White House, Washington DC on October 01, 2014. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with US president Barack Obama, at the White House, Washington DC on October 01, 2014. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

While recent diplomatic bickering between the US and Israel has the media characterizing the ties between the two allies as chilly, a smiling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu downplayed the tensions in an interview aired Thursday, insisting he and US President Barack Obama are like “an old couple.”

In an interview with US-based network Univision, a day after his visit at the White House, the prime minister said the relationship between him and Obama was “actually very good.”

“We’re like an old couple, because we’ve seen each other more than a dozen times,” he said, echoing a comment by Obama a day earlier that he’s met with Netanyahu more than any other world leader.

The prime minister said he and Obama “agree on a lot more things than we disagree on.”

The relationship between the two leaders, who came into office around the same time five years ago, has been famously thorny, as the two have butted heads often on the Palestinian peace process and thwarting Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Netanyahu conceded that “we’ve had our differences,” but added that both countries enjoy a “very, very strong alliance and it’s reflected in the leadership too.”

“We know each other, we respect each other, and we seek common objectives: we want to see security, peace, prosperity, in a very, very tough neighborhood,” Netanyahu said.

While both leaders were all smiles during their brief press appearance together Wednesday, reports indicated Obama expressed unhappiness over the approval of 2,610 new housing units in East Jerusalem, and a recent step by a right-wing group to move Jewish families into seven houses in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan.

The White House and State Department both harshly condemned the moves in similar statements.

On the subject of Silwan, Netanyahu said the area was not a settlement and that the residents had legally purchased the houses.

“Individual Jews bought apartments in an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem. Jews buy apartments in Arab neighborhoods. Arabs buy apartments in Jewish neighborhoods. I wouldn’t dream with interfering with that,” he said.

The prime minister added that if neighborhoods in the US, Mexico, or anywhere but Israel would bar Jews from moving in, “there would be an uproar.”

Earlier Wednesday, Netanyahu rejected the American condemnations, telling reporters upon his return from the White House to New York: “I don’t understand this criticism, and I don’t accept this position.”

Implying that the US had jumped to erroneous conclusions about the intended neighborhood, he added, “It’s worth learning the information properly before deciding to take a position like that.”

The interview with Univision came as part of a media blitz by Netanyahu, who spoke to six US networks on Wednesday and Thursday before returning to Israel.

Speaking to NPR, Netanyahu called on the US to refrain from working with Iran against the Islamic State terror group in Iraq.

“Iran is not an ally of the United states,” he said. “When both of your enemies are fighting each other, don’t strengthen one or the other, weaken both.”

AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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