Hebrew media review

When Bibi met Obama

The Israeli-US leader powwow draws headlines, colored by Putin and an ill-timed settlement building report

Joshua Davidovich is The Times of Israel's Deputy Editor

US President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, March 3, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
US President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, March 3, 2014 (photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Unlike Washington, where the AIPAC Israel lobby’s annual conference has taken a far back seat to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Crimean machinations, in Israeli papers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with US President Barack Obama takes center stage nearly across the board.

In fact, Maariv is the only paper where Putin and his marauding hordes win out, with a front page heralding Obama’s threat that the US will isolate Russia, coupled with a reprinting of the Washington Post’s harsh editorial from the day earlier, in which the commander in chief was called out for engaging in fantasy (in case you had any doubts where the paper stood.) “For five years, President Obama has led a foreign policy based more on how he thinks the world should operate than on reality. It was a world in which ‘the tide of war is receding’ and the United States could, without much risk, radically reduce the size of its armed forces,” reads the editorial Maariv is so hot and heavy about.

But you didn’t come here to read day-old Washington Post editorials. The three other papers each take a different chunk of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting as the lead element. Yedioth Ahronoth starts off with Obama’s declaration that now is the time for hard decisions (isn’t it always that time?), Haaretz quotes Netanyahu, that Israel has done its part, now it’s the Palestinians turn to join the three-man tango dance he just made up, and Israel Hayom takes a less confrontational quote from the Beeb-man, that Israel wants peace, “not a piece of paper, but real peace.”

In Yedioth, Shimon Shafir takes an educated guess at what went on behind closed doors between the two after the photo op and the nice words from both sides.

“It’s safe to assume that the American president tried to push out of the Israeli prime minister more guarantees for the Palestinians, the kind that will keep the peace talks alive. The direction is toward a quiet settlement freeze outside the main blocs, or maybe the release of more Palestinian prisoners. Netanyahu definitely repeated what he said before the cameras, that for 20 years the Israelis have tried to talk with the Palestinians and have only paid a heavy price with terrorists and rockets. In fairness, it should be noted that the Palestinians have also paid a heavy price, with hundreds of thousands of refugees living under foreign occupation.”

Haaretz’s Barak Ravid also plays the clairvoyant, writing that after the chummy photo op, Netanyahu had to go be alone with the same Obama who lambasted him in the press in comments published a day earlier. “When the photographers and the reporters left the room, Netanyahu met with the Obama behind the Bloomberg interview. The impression one gets is that Obama’s patience for the exhausting negotiations conducted by US Secretary of State John Kerry over the framework agreement is running out,” he writes.

However the paper’s US correspondent Chemi Shalev disagrees, writing that Obama, beset by Putin’s showboating in Ukraine, was likely the one on his knees in front of Netanyahu.

“What was the most important thing that President Obama wanted to convey to Netanyahu in their closed meeting at the White House on Monday? Here’s a wild guess: it had nothing to do with ‘aggressive’ settlements, Iranian sanctions, Talmudic sayings like ‘if not now, when?’ or any of the other issues that Obama tackled in his widely-quoted Bloomberg interview with Jeffrey Goldberg,” he writes. “Instead, Obama may have said something like this: ‘Do me a favor, Bibi my boy. Tomorrow, when you address AIPAC, be gentle with me. The last thing I need now is for you to whip up the pro-Israel lobbyists or the members of Congress with allegations and insinuations of my weak leadership.’ After all, between the time that Obama spoke to Goldberg and the time the interview was published, the president’s world turned upside down.”

In Israel Hayom, Dan Margalit hews pretty close the Netanyahu line, that Abbas has no interest in making peace, and thus calls for the talks ultimate goal to be an interim agreement, if only the rightists back at home would let him.

“The problem is that Israelis are also badmouthing the process. Everyone understands that there’s no chance of getting a final status deal. … therefore it’s not clear why the right doesn’t give Netanyahu the freedom to find verbal, practical and tactical ploys in order to recognize in this current round – as in the days of Barak and Olmert – the question of ‘who is to blame.’

All the papers give coverage to numbers that came just before the fateful meeting showing that settlement building jumped 123% from 2012 to 2013, with Yedioth devoting a full page to the report. The tabloid notes that the statistics office which released the report, with less-than-perfect timing if your name is Benjamin Netanyahu, was nonpolitical and was a routine release, which had been set two months before. The department said news of the release had been sent ahead of time to the Prime Minister’s Office. However the PMO said it did not coordinate the release of the info.

I can haz veeza?

Maariv reports that Israeli security officials, including from the army and Shin Bet, are being denied visas to enter America at an increasing pace. Included in the refusals are a number of Israelis working out import-export deals with security firms that may now need to be canceled because they can’t get visas.

“The last 20 years I’ve been to the US dozens of times as part of my job and never had any problem,” a government security official is quoted in the paper. “In the last year everything changed: I heard a lot of stories about people being refused visas but it made no sense, until I tired myself and was denied. Because of this it seems I’ll have to cancel my upcoming trip there, since I can’t get a visa.”

The paper adds that the US isn’t miserly only with its visas but also with its responses, failing to garner one from the embassy.

Switching gears totally, Haaretz’s opinionator Aner Shalev writes that even though a group home in Tel Aviv was not shot at, as was mistakenly thought before it turned out to be a case of construction damage and not bullet holes, it doesn’t mean that Israel doesn’t have a long way to go in learning how to respect the disabled, the elderly and those with other handicaps. “The fact that no one shot at the home cannot erase all the harassment directed at the home and its residents, such as pouring glue in the door lock and spilling oil at the entrance to make people slip and fall. Moreover, welfare officials say the neighborhood residents’ committee fiercely opposed the home, which is operated by Akim Israel, the National Association for the Habilitation of the Intellectually Disabled. People with disabilities have received a violent reception elsewhere, too. The Moshav Even Sapir branch of House of Wheels, which provides services for children and adults with impaired mobility, for example, was once torched.”

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