Details of a tense meeting between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have been revealed for the first time, shedding further light on the fraught relationship between the two leaders.
Tensions between the two leaders over major policies, from the peace process with the Palestinian Authority to the nuclear deal with Iran and beyond, have been a feature of their relationship since Obama took office – as have the occasional displays of apparent personal dislike.
But in an interview with veteran American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg for The Atlantic, Obama described one particularly charged meeting in which Netanyahu “launched into something of a lecture about the dangers of the brutal region in which he lives,” i.e. the Middle East.
Obama said he felt Netanyahu was being condescending towards him, and responded: “Bibi, you have to understand something. I’m the African American son of a single mother, and I live here, in this house. I live in the White House. I managed to get elected president of the United States. You think I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I do.”
The revelations were made during a special interview marking the last year of Obama’s eight terms in office.
The US president and his administration have repeatedly come in for strong criticism over their foreign policy, particularly vis-a-vis the Middle East. That criticism has not only come from Netanyahu by any means, with analysts and other world leaders slamming, among other things, the White House’s prevarication on the Syrian crisis, and many Middle Eastern leaders voicing serious concern over the agreement reached with Iran over its illegal nuclear program last year.
Obama told Goldberg he felt Netanyahu could easily cut a deal with the PA to reach a “two-state solution,” but was opting not to because he felt too politically vulnerable. The president apparently did not believe Israeli assessments that creating such a state in Judea and Samaria would post an enormous danger to the State of Israel.
Obama also dismissed during the interview suggestions floated by Israeli and other critics that he had been bluffing about US threats to pursue military action against Iran, if that was the only way to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
“I actually would have,” he told Goldberg. “If I saw them break out.”
But he acknowledged that “the argument that can’t be resolved, because it’s entirely situational, was what constitutes them getting” the bomb. Obama said the difference between himself and Netanyahu was that the Israeli premier wanted to prevent Iran from even having the capability to build a nuclear weapon, whereas he only drew the red line at Iran physically building one.
“This was the argument I was having with Bibi Netanyahu,” he said.
The interview come following the latest spat between Obama and Netanyahu, after the latter reportedly turned down a meeting with Obama next week.