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President Obama walks across the South Lawn after getting off of Marine One on his return to White House following a trip to Walter Reed Army Medical Center Nov. 6 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
JERUSALEM – The White House has not released any official photos of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting this week with President Obama – just one of several signs indicating a rift between the two leaders.
Netanyahu arrived in the U.S. last weekend to address a convention of Jewish leaders. The prime minister’s office had for weeks attempted to schedule a meeting with Obama, but no meeting was officially confirmed until Netanyahu was already on a plane on his way to Washington, sources in Netanyahu’s office said.
The only photos available to the media so far have been pictures of Netanyahu entering and exiting the White House. Any official photos taken of Obama and Netanyahu have not been released.
Neither Netanyahu nor Obama’s team had scheduled any press conferences after the meeting, contrary to usual custom. Sources close to Netanyahu told WND the Israeli team canceled media briefings at the request of the U.S. administration.
Also, the White House only released a brief statement after the meeting, affirming, “The President and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed a number of issues in the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship.”
The statement continued: “The President reaffirmed our strong commitment to Israel’s security, and discussed security cooperation on a range of issues. The President and Prime Minister also discussed Iran and how to move forward on Middle East peace.”
In another possible sign of displeasure noted by the Israelis, the country’s Haaretz newspaper reported Netanyahu was transported to the White House in a simple van and not an official U.S. government vehicle that usually takes world leaders to meetings with the president.
Both Netanyahu and Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, denied there was any tension between the U.S. and Israeli governments.
“The atmosphere during the meeting with President Obama was very open and very warm,” Netanyahu later told Israeli reporters. “The importance of the visit will be ascertained in the future.”
Netanyahu called reports of a crisis with Obama “nonsense.”
Emanuel, meanwhile, told a Jewish audience Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu was “good” and that the two discussed ways to progress on the peace front.
“The path toward peace is not one Israel should be asked to walk alone; that is why the U.S. will remain actively engaged and Israel’s one true friend,” said Emanuel.
Still, the White House refusal to even schedule a meeting with Netanyahu until the last minute was seen by some as an insult to the prime minister.
Writing in the Weekly Standard, Elliot Abrams, who served as President Bush’s deputy national security adviser, commented just before Netanyahu’s White House meeting was confirmed.
“Think of it: Our closest ally in the region, critical issues at stake (from Iran’s nuclear program and the recent Israeli seizure of an Iranian arms shipment meant for Hezbollah to Abbas’ announcement), yet the Israelis get no answer,” Abrams writes.
“Obama and his ‘experts’ may think they are reminding Netanyahu who is boss, but they are in fact reminding all of us why Israelis no longer trust Obama – and making closer cooperation between the two governments that much harder.”
Obama had demanded a complete halt to Jewish construction in the strategic West Bank and eastern sections of Jerusalem, which Netanyahu publicly refused.
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Jerusalem that a settlement freeze should not be a precondition for relaunching stalled talks with the Palestinians. However, WND reported the Palestinian Authority rejected a proposal by Clinton for Israel to largely scale back Jewish construction in exchange for the resumption of talks.