Why Obama is Avoiding a Meeting With Benjamin Netanyahu

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Here’s the latest from Reuters:

The White House has rejected a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet President Barack Obama in the United States this month, an Israeli official said on Tuesday, after a row erupted between the allies over Iran’s nuclear programme.

An Israeli official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Netanyahu’s aides had asked for a meeting when he visits the United Nations this month, and “the White House has got back to us and said it appears a meeting is not possible. It said that the president’s schedule will not permit that”.

Andrew Sprung takes this as evidence that “Obama has learned when not to negotiate, and how to back adversaries into a corner when he has public (or world) opinion on his side.” Maybe so. Certainly I don’t believe for a second that Obama couldn’t have rearranged his schedule to meet with Netanyahu if he’d wanted to.

But I think the main reason for Obama’s reticence is hidden in plain sight: the source for this story is an “Israeli official.” In other words, it comes from Netanyahu himself (via an aide), trying once again to create an incident at Obama’s expense. Basically, Obama understands quite keenly that a meeting with Netanyahu is a no-win situation. Netanyahu almost certainly won’t get everything he wants, and Obama can’t trust him not to immediately begin leaking the most damaging possible version of the meeting to his pals in Congress. For all practical purposes, he knows perfectly well that he has to treat Netanyahu as an arm of the Republican Party whose main goal is to prevent his reelection.

Given that, it’s much better to simply pretend that scheduling conflicts make a meeting impossible. Netanyahu can complain, but unless he’s willing to flatly call the president a liar, he can’t make anything stick. It’s just a scheduling conflict. Bill Kristol will write an aggrieved op-ed about it in the Weekly Standard, but that’s about as far as it will go.

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