Posted by on March 24, 2010 in Blog

WASHINGTON, D.C.­ The much anticipated Oval Office meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took place last night in reportedly two different meetings that lasted just over two hours combined. There was no photo-op, no joint press conference and no comment. While that is the story in all of the headlines today, it is also the substance. Like Secretary Clinton before him, the president did not back down. It is clear from the way the meeting was handled that a direct, difficult conversation took place between two leaders with real disagreements on substantive issues. While that maybe hard for some to hear, it is ultimately a good thing for advancing Middle East peace.

Presumably, Netanyahu did his best to spin his way out of the unspinable.  First, he argued that the flap was due to ill timing. Then he fell back on the argument that it was something he had no control over and that it won't happen again. Then he blamed it on another minister. Finally he offered something the equivalent of don't ask, don't tell. If all of this does not make any sense, neither did Netanyahu on this trip to Washington where he failed to win over many converts.  He will go back to Israel with much to think about.  The president was not won over by him because this is not about two friends but rather two strategic allies with some divergent interests at this point. And while he got the boilerplate language he expected from some in Congress, he failed there too because his divide and conquer strategy didn't work. The Republican members of Congress gave him the over-the-top partisan statements he was seeking. But after the passage of health care reform, they simply sounded like spoilers attempting to attack a strong Democratic president. And in the case of Democrats, he got a big change of subject where the conversation was focused on Iran. The point is the Administration, the majority of Congress, press outlets, etc. stayed the course and that will prove to serve US interests well.