November 12, 2015 | Commentary on American Leadership, Arab-Israeli Conflict, Public Diplomacy

Brookes: Barack-Bibi rift now all in the family

It was a lot like one of those holiday family get-togethers.

You know, one of those annual gatherings that are well-intentioned expressions of love and affection but are simultaneously pregnant with tensions built up over the years among the attending relatives.

When that trying day of togetherness at Grandma’s house ends without the expected fusillade of familial “fireworks,” everyone — who had been bracing for them — breathes a huge sigh of relief and satisfaction.

Of course, it doesn’t just apply to families.

Indeed, you might put Monday’s White House meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and President Obama in the same nerve-jangling category.

The disagreements between these two leaders are legendary.

Indeed, it’s been reported that the two men haven’t met in more than a year and haven’t spoken in nearly four months, which is quite striking considering the state of the world, especially in Syria and Iraq.

Two huge issues have divided them.

As is well known, President Obama wanted some substantive progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue (that is, a two-state solution) during his tenure, but after seven years of trying has failed to move the matter forward.

Indeed, from the looks of it, considering the fractured Palestinian leadership — between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank — and an ongoing spike in violence between the parties, peace isn’t anywhere in sight.

Perhaps more damaging to the personal relationship between Netanyahu and Obama and bilateral ties between the states was the diplomatic “food fight” over negotiations on Iran’s nuclear (weapons) program.

Who could forget the unhappiness at the White House about Congress’ invitation to Bibi to address a joint session in March, where he gave his views on the current state of the impending nuclear deal with our mutual enemy, Iran?

Fortunately, from the looks of the White House meeting on Monday — Obama’s body language and the lack of a full-blown “presser” aside — at a policy level the two leaders have seemingly decided to let bilateral bygones be bygones.

For instance, they acknowledged their differences on Iran but Netanyahu seems resigned to that fact that Obama prevailed on the issue despite Israel’s (and many others’) deep concerns.

For his part, Obama seemed to accept the idea that he won’t see the sort of resolution he had hoped for on the Israeli-Palestinian issue during his term, considering the current state of play and his limited time left in office.

On a brighter note, there did seem to be progress in discussions regarding a memorandum of understanding on U.S. defense assistance to Israel during the period 2017-2027, which Congress must ultimately approve.



While their personal relationship will probably never be repaired, the two leaders acknowledged the friendship and the many shared values and mutual interests that the two sides have at the state-to-state level.

Like the family holiday party, the Netanyahu-Obama meeting could have been worse — far worse — which is exceedingly fortunate considering the immense challenges that the United States and Israel both face in the Middle East.


-Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. Follow him on Twitter @Brookes_Peter.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

This piece originally appeared in the Boston Herald