One Israeli cabinet member suggested that Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, had warned his counterpart ahead of time about the possible cancelation. When asked for a reason why Netanyahu would cancel a meeting with his country’s most important ally, one Israeli official offered this rationale: “It’s a tumultuous primary season in the United States ... we don’t want to inject ourselves into that tumultuous process.”
Over at The Washington Post, Daniel Drezner isn’t buying it:
The claim that Netanyahu is super-concerned about influencing American domestic politics is absurd on its face. Four years ago, any such concerns did not stop Netanyahu from meeting with Obama and addressing AIPAC in person. Oh, and just a quick FYI: That speech happened on March 5, 2012, which just happened to be the day before Super Tuesday, so it’s not like the GOP nomination was completely settled at that point.
And this time last year, Netanyahu traveled to Washington to bash the U.S.-led negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program in front of Congress, a visit the White House hadn’t approved.
Following Monday’s report, some in the Israeli media were’t so forgiving either.
Netanyahu’s cancelation is unprecedented, writes Raphael Ahren at The Times of Israel. “There is no public record of an Israeli prime minister ever previously rejecting an invite to meet a president at the White House,” he says.
Ahren also quotes a befuddled Israeli expert on the U.S.-Israel relationship, who pours this glass of cold water on Netanyahu: “When an American president invites you, you have to go. Sometimes you invite yourself even when the president doesn’t want to see you. But when he invites you, you can’t say no.”
What’s at the heart of this snub isn’t clear. Residual bitter grapes from the Iran deal? Residual bitter grapes in general? Israel, still wary of and smarting from last year’s nuclear accord, is also in the midst of negotiating a military aid package with the United States.
This latest episode comes just as Vice President Joe Biden was touching down in Israel for a visit amid a surge in Palestinian attacks on Israelis. As we noted in October 2014, both Netanyahu’s previous visit to the White House and Biden’s previous visit to Israel were marred by the announcement of settlement expansions.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Tuesday brushed aside speculation that the White House was insulted by Netanyahu’s decision, but said Israel should have notified the U.S. directly, because “it’s just good manners.”
“I’m merely suggesting that if they weren’t able to make the meeting, they should have just told us before they told a reporter,” he told reporters.