U.S. President Barack Obama admitted to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in their meeting at the White House on Wednesday that “it’s possible we were mistaken in our analysis of the situation in the Middle East.”
The surprising admission took place during their 100-minute meeting in the Oval Office, which to all appearances was conducted in a friendly atmosphere, notwithstanding the constant media harping on tensions in the bilateral relationship.
But that did not mean the two had reached agreement about Iran or the Palestinians. Netanyahu pressed his case once more that the West must keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, while Obama sought to take the conversation to brave peacemaking.
However, Netanyahu may have outmaneuvered his senior ally, as he reaffirmed his commitment to a two-state solution in a brief statement to the press which he made alongside Obama before their meeting on Wednesday.
“I remain committed to the vision of peace of two states for two peoples, based on mutual recognition and rock-solid security arrangements,” Netanyahu said.
He said, though, that to achieve that would require fresh thinking to reflect changing realities in the region. “We should make use of the new opportunities [in the Middle East], think outside of the box, and see how we can include the Arab countries to advance this very hopeful agenda,” he said, though offering nothing more specific, at least in front of the microphones.
Netanyahu thanked Obama for America’s “uncompromising support” for Israel during the trials of the past summer, and said Israel fully supported Obama’s “effort and leadership” to defeat Islamic State. “We think that everyone should support this,” he said.
Obama said that the American people were “very proud” about the U.S. contributions to Iron Dome “that protected the lives of Israelis at a time when rockets were pouring into Israel on a regular basis.”
He said ways have to be found to “change the status quo” so that Israelis are safe at home and in school and “so you don’t have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well.”
He said the meeting with Netanyahu would deal extensively with Gaza, as well as with finding a more sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Obama said he would also “debrief” the prime minister on the work to “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS.”
Likewise, he said, “we will also be able to discuss progress this week made in attempts to deal with Iran’s nuclear program, which is obviously a high priority not only for Israel, but for the United States and the world.”
Netanyahu asked Obama to make every effort to keep the peace talks with the Palestinians alive.
“Mahmoud Abbas has lost his direction,” Netanyahu told Obama. “He is issuing inflammatory statements, and it’s hard to see him as a real partner for peace.”
Back in Israel on Wednesday night, Jewish Home party MKs criticized Netanyahu for his reiteration of commitment to a two-state solution.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, the party chairman, said that “those who are committed to war against Islamic State and Hamas can’t give them a state.”
“The idea of a Palestinian state flew airborne this past summer along with the missiles that were launched at Ben-Gurion Airport,” Bennett said. “It would be a good thing if we sobered up from the idea, and quickly.”
“Never has any official Israeli government institution, the Knesset, or the Likud approved the prime minister’s remarks regarding two states for two peoples,” Housing Minister Uri Ariel said. “Therefore the premier’s remarks do not bind the state of Israel, and hence they will never be realized.”