No international shatter zone is more sensitive to language than the Middle East, where even verb tenses can signal a change in policy. With that in mind, here's an exigesis of today's joint press conference with President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

When Obama said: "I think we had a extraordinarily productive series of conversations, not only between the two of us but also at the staff and agency levels."


He means: We had a frank exchange of views. 


When Obama said: "We also had an extensive discussion about the possibilities of restarting serious negotiations on the issue of Israel and the Palestinians."


He means:  He knows what he has to do in order to prod Israel to move things along.


When Obama said: "Under the 'road map,' there's a clear understanding ... settlements have to be stopped. It's a difficult issue, but it's an important one."  


He means: Bibi complained how difficult it was to stop settlements from growing naturally. And it's clear he's not going to do anything until the PA becomes strong enough to resist. And Israel will build out the settlements to the maximum extent possible, and which gives them bargaining power when the lines for the Palestinian state are eventually drawn.
When Obama said: "We should have a fairly good sense by the end of the year as to whether they are moving in the right direction and whether the parties involved are making progress and that there's a good-faith effort to resolve differences."

He really means:  My goal in the private meeting was to convince Netanyahu to give us nine months before he does something radical.  

When Obama said: "I don't want to set an artificial deadline...."

He really means: "I don't want to tie my hands to a nine month timetable, and I reserve the right to revise my opinion if circumstances warrant."

When Bibi said: "In this context, the worst danger we face is that Iran would develop nuclear military capabilities."

He means: Iran first.  Then we can talk about two states. 

When Bibi praised Obama for his "your firm commitment to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear military capability," he means to suggest that Obama made a firm commitment in private, whether he did or not.

When Bibi said, of the Palestinians: "We want them to govern themselves." 

He wants the US public to hear: he endorsed a two-state solution!

He wants Israel to hear: he's not endorsing a two-state solution and doesn't need to until the Iran question is resolved to the satisfaction of the Israeli public. 

When Bibi said: "Another thing was Iran ...a topic which consumed most of hour private one-on-one meeting. It was clear that he [Obama] understands the extent of the problem, for the world as well as for us, and he is committed to preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons."

First, it's clear what Israel heard:  Haaretz: "Obama: U.S. backs Palestinian statehood, no Iran deadline"


The American press is more confused. The Associated Press heard Netanyahu proclaim his readiness to rejoin the peace process "immediately," an interpretation that no doubt pleases the Israelis, even as Netanyahu probably did not signal anything like that. (The reigning quid-pro-quo: the tougher the US gets with Iran, the softer Netanyahu will talk to the Palestinians.)

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