By Adam Howard
In February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced his intention to attend the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C. on March 20-22. A few days later, the White House announced that U.S. President Barack Obama would be visiting Cuba on the same days.
Amid speculation that the inelegant timing on the part of the U.S. would ultimately lead to Prime Minister Netanyahu skipping the trip, the Prime Minister decided to reach out to the White House to schedule an earlier date for a meeting, to which President Obama agreed, reports Reuters.
Then in March, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement that Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer had informed the White House that, while Prime Minister Netanyahu “appreciates” President Obama’s offer to meet with him, he is unlikely to attend the AIPAC conference, The Guardian reports.
According to the Obama administration, Netanyahu wanted a meeting with Obama on either March 17 or 18, a request the White House was happy to accommodate, reports Foreign Policy. However, after receiving an invitation for a March 18 meeting, word of Netanyahu’s cancellation spread.
The White House claims that it was waiting for Prime Minister Netanyahu to confirm when reports of Netanyahu’s decision to cancel the trip surfaced in the Israeli media. Several outlets, including Haaretz, identified President Obama’s schedule as the main reason for the cancellation.
Ned Price, a spokesman for the National Security Council, stated that the White House was “looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting and [they] were surprised to first learn via media reports that the Prime Minister opted to cancel his visit,” reports MSNBC. Price denied that the White House was unable to accommodate Netanyahu, and the Prime Minister’s Office has denounced allegations that President Obama was snubbed.
It remains a mystery why exactly Netanyahu chose to skip his annual trip to the U.S. The Prime Minister’s aides have suggested that Netanyahu canceled his trip in order to avoid 2016 U.S. presidential election sensitivities, according to MSNBC.
Another reason could be that negotiations on the American security aid package for the next decade have stalled with dissention continuously cropping up on both sides and no resolution in sight. The simplest and perhaps most believable explanation posed by CNN is that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have simply seen enough of each other after seven years of less than amiable relations.
This is not the first time that communication between the two leaders has broken down. Only a year ago, Netanyahu shocked the Obama administration by making a surprise visit to the U.S. to lobby before a joint session of Congress against the Iran nuclear deal.
The New York Times suggests that as the Obama administration seeks to put a bow on its foreign policy legacy, continued disharmony between the U.S. and its strongest ally in the Middle East is certainly not how it wants to be remembered, particularly as it strives toward reviving its Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.