Did Obama Treat BiBi Like the ‘President of Equatorial Guinea’?

March 26, 2010

(ChattahBox)—The face-to face meetings held this week between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not end well. Netanyahu refused to agree to concessions demanded by the White House to advance Palestinian peace talks, including an extension of a limited Jewish settlement freeze and an end to settlement construction in East Jerusalem. In the midst of an already soured relationship between the two countries, the meetings did not result in the typical photo opportunities when a world leader visits the White House and no significant statements were released from either side. And back home, the Israeli newspapers were filled with stories of Netanyahu’s “humiliation” and ill treatment at the hands of President Obama. Israel’s Maariv newspaper described the cool reception from the White House, as “treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea.”

To be fair to the country of Equatorial Guinea — the nation is indeed one of the smallest countries in continental Africa, but it’s also quite prosperous. Although quite a bit of the country’s wealth goes directly into the pockets of corrupt government officials, including the president. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been president of the tiny country, since 1979 when he gained power through a bloody coup d’état of a leader engaged in mass genocide. However, Obiang has also shown himself to be a brutal and corrupt dictator and he has christened himself a “god.” He made a state visit to the U.S. in 2006, and was welcomed by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who called him a “good friend.”

Obiang and his wife appear in an official White House photo alongside President Obama and the First Lady taken at a reception at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, as part of the 2009 United Nations General Assembly.

How did relations between Israel, a long-time ally and the United States get so bad? Much of the rift in relations, can be blamed on Netanyahu’s government coalition of ultra-Orthodox officials, who are strident nationalists with negative views towards interference in their country by the United States. But at the same time, Netanyahu realizes he needs the U.S. as an ally in the explosive Middle East region with the threat of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Netanyahu so far, has not succeeded in the delicate balancing act needed to appease his constituents at home, while appearing to negotiate in good faith with the U.S. to enter into good faith peace talks with the Palestinians.

And the announcement of plans “to build 1,600 new housing units for Jews” in Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem on the eve of Vice President Joe Biden’s peace trip to Israel, angered the Obama administration, which viewed the announcement as an “insult.” Netanyahu apologized for the “timing” of the announcement. But his “timing” was off again, as yet another announcement of new Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem, was released to the press before his scheduled meeting with President Obama. And before the White House meeting, Netanyahu delivered a defiant speech to the pro-Israel group AIPAC.

By the time Netanyahu arrived at the White House, relations had deteriorated from bad to worse. Instead of arriving at the meeting prepared to make concessions for peace, Netanyahu showed up at the White House with an elaborate flow chart, showing municipal government operations, to prove that he had no control and no knowledge of the announcements of the Jewish settlements, which ruined Joe Biden’s peace mission.

Obama was not impressed with Netanyahu’s flow chart defense and walked out of the room to have a private family dinner, leaving Netanyahu to cool his heels with his aides in the Roosevelt room, according to some reports.

According to the report of the meetings by the UK Times Online, entitled “Binyamin Netanyahu humiliated after Barack Obama ‘dumped him for dinner,”’ an unnamed “US Congressman” (Rep. John Boehner?) was only too happy to provide the Times Online with details of the meetings, based on Netanyahu’s account:

“After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on settlements, Mr Obama walked out of his meeting with Mr. Netanyahu but invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisers and “let me know if there is anything new”, a US congressman, who spoke to the Prime Minister, said.” It was awful,” the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House telephone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea.”’ “Left to talk among themselves Mr. Netanyahu and his aides retreated to the Roosevelt Room. He spent a further half-hour with Mr. Obama and extended his stay for a day of emergency talks to try to restart peace negotiations. However, he left last night with no official statement from either side. He returned to Israel yesterday isolated after what Israeli media have called a White House ambush for which he is largely to blame.”

The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, said “The Prime Minister leaves America disgraced, isolated and altogether weaker than when he came.”

A report by the Middle East Online, had additional quotes from Israel newspapers:

“Instead of a reception as a guest of honour, Netanyahu was treated as a problem child, an army private ordered to do laps around the base for slipping up at roll call,” said Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.

And from Israel’s Maariv newspaper: “There is no humiliation exercise that the Americans did not try on the prime minister and his entourage.”

“Bibi received in the White House the treatment reserved for the president of Equatorial Guinea,” it added, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

Israeli army radio said the visit had done little to repair relations and was at best a “disappointment” and at worst a “resounding failure.”

After the failed White House meetings and the negative media attention, Netanyahu, said the two sides had made “progress.” And the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs acknowledged that “gestures” had been made by Israel, such as restrictions on Israeli troop activities in the West Bank and the freeing of Palestinian prisoners. But the major rift involves the expansion of Jewish settlements and Netanyahu has shown no willingness to agree to U.S. demands.

Still, Israel and the U.S. remain strong allies, despite the present souring of relations. “We’re making progress on important issues,” said Gibbs on Thursday.

According to The New York Times, “Mr. Netanyahu is expected to meet on Friday with his top seven cabinet ministers to begin to form his response. It may be some days or longer before it is complete.”


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