Just when it seemed there was nothing more Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could do to further damage his relationship with the White House, he managed to find a way.
Netanyahu had been scheduled to attend this year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, but a major Israeli newspaper reported that the prime minister was prepared to skip the event because he hadn’t received an invitation to meet with President Obama.
The New York Times, however, reported on the West Wing’s version of events.
The White House later dispatched a spokesman for the National Security Council to insist that it was Mr. Netanyahu who had turned down a chance to meet with the president. The spokesman also noted pointedly that Israeli officials had not personally informed Mr. Obama’s team of the prime minister’s change of plans.“We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting, and we were surprised to first learn via media reports that the prime minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit,” the spokesman, Ned Price, said on Monday.
As far as the Obama administration is concerned, Netanyahu wanted a meeting with the president on either March 17 or 18, and the White House was happy to oblige, extending an invitation to the prime minister for a March 18 meeting with the president.
In other words, Netanyahu asked for an invitation, received an invitation, and then turned down the chance for a meeting.
Foreign Policy magazine reported last night that the Israeli leader shifted into “damage control mode” late yesterday.
By Monday evening, Netanyahu appeared to be in damage control mode, with unnamed aides saying that he had decided to cancel his trip to Washington due to concerns over appearing to influence the U.S. presidential election, rather than because of a snub from the White House.“The prime minister decided not to travel to Washington at the current time at the height of the US election season,” officials told Haaretz. “The prime minister appreciates that President [Barack] Obama would have met with him in advance of the conference and his planned trip to Cuba.”
It’s difficult to take this explanation seriously. First, this is not “the height” of the American election season – voting is still eight months away, and neither party has even decided on a nominee. Second, there’s no reason to believe the prime minister meeting privately with the president at the White House would send any kind of partisan signals about intervention in an election that’s still far off.
Besides, if mid-March was such a politically perilous time, why did Israeli officials request this White House meeting in the first place?
And if Netanyahu is really worried about interfering with the U.S. elections, can we talk about his political activities in 2012?