In a technical gaffe, President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy were overheard by journalists at last week’s G20 summit in Cannes slamming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The conversation was meant to be private but their microphones were left on and Sarkozy was noted to have called Netanyahu a “liar.”
Not to be outdone, Obama replied, “You’re fed up, but I have to deal with him every day,” as reported by Reuters. Reuters reports that Netanyahu’s office declined to comment but tried to downplay the episode by saying, “everyone talks about everyone.”
The interesting thing about these remarks is that it is not very shocking to anyone at all who has observed the relationship between Israel and the U.S. since the Obama administration came to power. The two heads of states have had what is often regarded as the worst relations between an American president and Jewish head of state since 1948.
"Obama is the worst American president that Israel has ever had," said Richard Land in a speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference last June in Washington, according to Baptist Press. Land is the president of a Southern Baptist organization and executive editor to The Christian Post.
Land’s statement stems from the political divide between conservatives and liberals. Conservatives regard Israel as an esteemed American ally while liberals want to see Israel not given special treatment. Obama’s worldview is distinctly different from any of his recent predecessors in the White House and as a result Israel has regarded him as hostile.
The two leaders appear to have a stark policy difference. Netanyahu often takes a hard lined approach when dealing with the Palestinians while Obama likes to exercise his diplomatic powers.
In May, Obama caused a stir within Washington and Jerusalem when he stated that Israel should revert back to the pre-1967 boundaries.
Netanyahu rejected Obama’s statement and replied sharply that “Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967.”
Their policy differences, however, seem to have become personal. The two leaders have gotten into a habit of publicly snubbing each other. For example, in 2009, Obama hosted American Jewish leaders at the White House and it was reported that he sought to put “daylight” between American and Israel. In 2010, Netanyahu traveled to Washington but President Obama refused to have dinner with him. Netanyahu was sent out through a side door.
For his part, Netanyahu has traveled the U.S. trying to make himself look tough in speeches to American audiences in flippant appearances toward Obama.
However, President Obama is not alone in his distaste for the Israeli Prime Minister and Sarkozy’s statement reveals that. European leaders have progressively distanced themselves from Netanyahu as they have become fed up with Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Obama and Sarkozy’s comments appear to be, on the surface, an incident of “official gossip” that, as the Israeli office said, everyone participates in. However, for the sake of a much hoped for Palestinian-Israeli peace, it is imperative that these comments not be a sign of future failed diplomacy.