Yesterday we noted how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hours after President Obama's Middle East speech, rejected Obama's proposal for the creation of a Palestinian state based on Israel's borders before the 1967 Six-Day War. But, as Netanyahu heads to the White House today to meet with Obama, we're learning that the afternoon back-and-forth statements by the two leaders is only part of the story. There was a lot of tense diplomacy going on behind the scenes.
The New York Times has the scoop on the diplomatic maneuvering before yesterday's speech. The paper reports that on Thursday morning, only hours before Obama's address, Netanyahu and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a "furious phone call" in which the Israeli prime minister angrily opposed Obama's plan to support Israel's pre-1967 borders for a future Palestinian state. Obama went ahead with the plan anyway. The speech itself, in fact, was scheduled for Thursday to make sure Obama had the first word on an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. When Netanyahu learned earlier this spring that Obama would give a major Middle East speech, the Times explains, Netanyahu scheduled his own address to Congress on May 24 in a "move was widely interpreted as an attempt to get out in front of Mr. Obama, by presenting an Israeli peace proposal that, while short of what the Palestinians want, would box in the president."
The Times adds that Netanyahu and Obama, who have sparred over Israeli settlement construction, generally distrust each other; Obama doesn't think Netanyahu will "ever be willing to make the kind of big concessions that will lead to a peace deal," the paper notes, and Netanyahu, who heads Israel's conservative Likud Party, thinks Obama has "pushed Israel too far."
The next several hours may prove as tense as the last 24. CNN tells us that Obama and Netanyahu will spend Friday morning in meetings, beginning with a meeting in the Oval Office closed to the press. The two leaders will then make statements to the press before heading to a private lunch in the Old Family Dining Room. Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., says that Netanyahu will discuss the 1967 borders issue with the president, and the Times adds that the two men will also talk about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's plan to unilaterally seek U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in September. As America's European allies appear more likely to vote for the measure, the Times explains, neither Israel nor the U.S. wants "to see an overwhelmingly lopsided United Nations vote for Palestinian statehood."