Binyamin Netanyahu humiliated
after Barack Obama 'dumped him for dinner'
The President was said to have walked out of the meeting, saying to
Mr. Netanyahu: 'Let me know if there is anything new'
The Times. March 26, 2010. For a head of government to visit the
White House and not pose for photographers is rare. For a key ally to be
left to his own devices while the President withdraws to have dinner in
private was, until this week, unheard of. Yet that is how Binyamin
Netanyahu was treated by President Obama on Tuesday night, according to
Israeli reports on a trip viewed in Jerusalem as a humiliation.
After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on
settlements, Mr Obama walked out of his meeting with Mr Netanyahu but
invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisers and “let
me know if there is anything new”, a US congressman, who spoke to the
Prime Minister, said.
“It was awful,” the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the
meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli
delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a
White House telephone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had
received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial
Left to talk among themselves Mr Netanyahu and his aides retreated to
the Roosevelt Room. He spent a further half-hour with Mr Obama and
extended his stay for a day of emergency talks to try to restart peace
negotiations. However, he left last night with no official statement
from either side. He returned to Israel yesterday isolated after what
Israeli media have called a White House ambush for which he is largely
Sources said that Mr Netanyahu failed to impress Mr Obama with a flow
chart purporting to show that he was not responsible for the timing of
announcements of new settlement projects in east Jerusalem. Mr Obama was
said to be livid when such an announcement derailed the visit to Israel
by Joe Biden, the Vice-President, this month and his anger towards
Israel does not appear to have cooled.
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, cast doubt on minor
details in Israeli accounts of the meeting but did not deny claims that
it amounted to a dressing down for the Prime Minister, whose refusal to
freeze settlements is seen in Washington as the main barrier to resuming
The Likud leader has to try to square the rigorous demands of the Obama
Administration with his nationalist, ultra-Orthodox coalition partners,
who want him to stand up to Washington even though Israel needs US
backing in confronting the threat of a nuclear Iran.
“The Prime Minister leaves America disgraced, isolated and altogether
weaker than when he came,” the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz said.
In their meeting Mr Obama set out expectations that Israel was to
satisfy if it wanted to end the crisis, Israeli sources said. These
included an extension of the freeze on Jewish settlement growth beyond
the ten-month deadline next September, an end to building projects in
east Jerusalem and a withdrawal of Israeli forces to positions held
before the second intifada in September 2000.
Newspaper reports recounted how Mr Netanyahu looked “excessively
concerned and upset” when he pulled out a flow chart to show Mr Obama
how Jerusalem planning permission worked and how he could not have known
that the announcement that hundreds more homes were to be built would be
made when Mr Biden arrived in Jerusalem.
Mr Obama then suggested that Mr Netanyahu and his staff stay at the
White House to consider his proposals so that if he changed his mind he
could inform the President right away. “I’m still around,” the daily
newspaper Yediot Aharonot quoted Mr Obama as saying. “Let me know if
there is anything new.”
With the atmosphere so soured by the end of the evening, the Israelis
decided that they could not trust the telephone line they had been lent
for their consultations. Mr Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, his Defence
Minister, went to the Israeli Embassy to ensure that the Americans were
not listening in.
The meeting came barely a day after Mr Obama’s health reform victory.
Israel had calculated that he would be too tied up with domestic issues
to focus seriously on the Middle East.
Giles Whittell, Washington, and James Hider, Jerusalem