Obama congratulates Netanyahu on election victory

Almost a week after vote, president calls, says he looks forward to working with Israel’s next government

Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Barack Obama shaking hands at a meeting in the White House in March 2012 (photo credit:  Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Barack Obama shaking hands at a meeting in the White House in March 2012 (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

President Barack Obama on Monday congratulated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his success in last week’s election. The White House said Obama and Netanyahu spoke by telephone, almost a week after Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu list won the most seats in the Knesset elections.

In the phone call, Obama said he looked forward to working with Israel’s next government and affirmed his commitment to a strong US relationship with Israel and to promoting regional peace and security.

Netanyahu’s relationship with the president has been strained.

Earlier Monday, a former US ambassador to Israel on Monday confirmed that Obama is deeply dismayed by Netanyahu’s policies on the Palestinians, and that there is “bad chemistry” between the two leaders.

Martin Indyk, vice president at Washington DC’s Brookings Institution think tank and president Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Israel from 1995-97 and 2000-01, urged Netanyahu to “reach out” to the president “and try and turn a new page.”

He said he was sure that Obama would be “receptive” to such an effort.

Indyk, interviewed on Army Radio, said the source of what he called the president’s “frustration” with Netanyahu and what he acknowledged was the “bad chemistry” was the prime minister’s approach to peacemaking with the Palestinians.

“It’s not [merely the issue of] settlements,” Indyk said, but rather the Netanyahu approach to the Palestinians in general and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in particular. Netanyahu, in Obama’s assessment, is plain “wrong” to argue that Abbas is not partner, Indyk said. Abbas is a partner, who opposes and works to prevent violence and seeks peace. “He’s just up the road in Ramallah… He’s committed to the two-state solution.”

Indyk was speaking amid reports that Obama is conditioning a presidential visit to Israel on significant progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and ahead of a reported planned visit here shortly by his incoming secretary of state John Kerry

His comments came two weeks after Obama was quoted as castigating Netanyahu for ostensibly turning Israel into a pariah nation and threatening its long-term survival through his hard line on the Palestinians — remarks that were not denied by the White House and that prompted Netanyahu to hit back by declaring that if he were to capitulate to demands for a retreat to the pre-1967 lines, “we’d get Hamas 400 meters from my house.”

According to a mid-January report by Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama has begun repeating the mantra that Israel under Netanyahu “doesn’t know what its own best interests are.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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